MARYLAND’S ROLLOUT of its medical marijuana program has been called “ one of the slowest” of the 28 states that allow it. Approved about three years ago, the program is still months away from being operational and that might be optimistic. The length of time, one would hope, means there was careful planning and follow-through — but sadly, that has not been the case. Instead, the process has been tainted by self-dealing and complaints of racial bias, secrecy and political interference.
Getting most of the attention was Friday’s official censure for a state lawmaker who was less than forthright about his dual roles in the state’s push for medical marijuana. The House of Delegates reprimanded Del. Dan K. Morhaim (D-Baltimore County) after the ethics committee found he had improperly advocated changes to medical marijuana without publicly disclosing his role as a paid consultant to a prospective cannabis dispensary. Critics saw the punishment as a “slap on the wrist,” but at least lawmakers took some action in response to unacceptable behavior.
Equal concern should also be directed at the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission and how it selected the businesses to receive the limited number of lucrative licenses to grow and process cannabis. Recent revelations in a lawsuit brought by two companies that were abruptly bumped from the list of 15 finalists raise questions about whether political connections may have played a role.
Maryland Cultivation and Processing and Green Thumb Industries had been ranked No. 8 and No. 12, respectively, by a panel of outside experts advising the selection subcommittee. The subcommittee voted unanimously on July 27 to approve them, but two days later the subcommittee’s chairman, Cheverly Police Chief Harry Robshaw, persuaded three other members to reverse their votes and instead approve two lower-ranked firms. One of them proposed to do business in Prince George’s County and has political ties that include Maryland Fraternal Order of Police head Vince Canales and former state secretary of health Nelson Sabatini as well as representation by high-profile Annapolis lobbyist Gerard Evans. The company has said the team was assembled based on experience and expertise and it never tried to influence the commission. Commission officials have said the change was needed to enhance geographic diversity, something required by the statute legalizing medical marijuana.
Why then were applicants not told that geography would be determinant? And how did this only emerge as a concern 48 hours after the initial vote? Mr. Robshaw’s explanation that the subcommittee initially didn’t have complete information on the counties in which the applicants would operate was contradicted in a sworn deposition by former commissioner Deborah Miran, the lone holdout in making the swap, who said the subcommittee had all the geographic information before the unanimous vote.
A spokeswoman for the commission told us that allegations of political favoritism are “false, unsubstantiated, and based on rumor and conjecture.” It is clear that more needs to be known about these events, so it is troubling that the state attorney general’s office has blocked the release of information — including the dissent of Ms. Miran, who curiously was subsequently denied reappointment to the commission. We hope the judge hearing this case will make clear the need for transparency in facts and actions taken by public regulatory bodies.