The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission is set to disband Tuesday under reforms adopted in 2018, and regulators were rushing to approve new licenses in advance of the creation of a replacement commission.
Now, an industry launched amid legal and political controversy faces it again.
A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge late Wednesday temporarily blocked regulators from issuing new growing or processing licenses, ruling as part of a lawsuit alleging the commission illegally excluded one of the license applicants, a firm identified in court papers as Remileaf, LLC.
Separately, black lawmakers raised concerns that as the 200 companies that applied for the new 14 licenses learned whether they were among the top-ranked firms, it appeared minority-owned companies were again being left out of the lucrative industry.
“I have too many African Americans that worked extremely hard, put in a whole lot of money ,” said Del. Darryl Barnes (D-Prince George’s), chair of the Legislative Black Caucus. “For them to not have the opportunity, it doesn’t sit well with me. . . . We want to ensure that the process is done fairly. From the phone calls that we have received, there seems to be some impropriety going on.”
Barnes and Del. Cheryl D. Glenn (D-Baltimore City), the former caucus chair who spearheaded the effort to boost diversity in medical marijuana industry, declined to elaborate on the allegation.
The black caucus asked commissioners Wednesday for a delay and “to ensure that all companies are truthful in their disclosures about minority ownership, and their financial status.” In an interview, the lawmakers said they were pressing the commission to fully investigate claims by winning bidders that they represented disadvantaged minority groups.
The industry expansion was mandated by the General Assembly at the behest of the black caucus after the inaugural licensing process did not select any African-American-owned firms to grow the drug, despite a state law requiring diversity in the industry.
Commission chair Brian Lopez said the panel halted the issuance of new licenses because investigators needed to more thoroughly look at the identities of the winning firms, whose applications were reviewed and ranked in a blind process. He said that the decision was made irrespective of the judge’s ruling.
“Our intention is to get the process right,” Lopez said, declining to say whether minority-owned firms were among the top-ranked companies and noting that none of the top-ranked companies have been publicly identified. “There’s a lot of rumors out there.”
In remarks to reporters, Glenn suggested the process was not working as she had envisioned. She said the new licenses were created “not for the purposes of expanding the footprint to hedge-fund companies,” but to benefit black people.
“African Americans are the ethnic group that’s been most disproportionately impacted by marijuana laws for years,” Glenn said. “And so it’s time for Maryland to set the standard in this country to say that African Americans can have a part in the ownership of medical marijuana.”
Maryland’s medical marijuana industry is booming, with several growers doubling or tripling production to meet demand. Lawmakers are also considering whether to legalize recreational use of the drug, in part to help finance a landmark education plan to reduce racial inequity and disparate achievement in public schools.
After a rocky start delayed by lawsuits and political uncertainty, sales began in late 2017.