Medical Marijuana Growers Still Missing Black Representation

Eyes On Prince George's County Politics

by: Bruce Branch Special to the AFRO
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Even though one medical marijuana dispensary in Prince George’s County has been granted a growers license by the state of Maryland, Black-owned dispensaries in the county and the state were not.

It may happen early next year, but as of right now Blacks do not have any licenses to participate in the lucrative $221 million industry by 2021, according to the Medical Marijuana industry research group New Frontier. Despite massive protests and debates by the minority community, Maryland regulators went ahead and granted the final eight licenses to all-White growers in what is sure to cause much consternation and debate during the next legislative session.

That means as of right now, Blacks are shut out of the state’s newest industry just as they initially were during the debate of minority business participation in gambling and wind energy. It is unclear what the impact may be on the upcoming elections in 2018 when Black votes are needed to by Democrats if they hope to unseat Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who has smartly stayed out of the debate. At least a dozen minority-owned companies filed applications. There were four Prince George’s County Black-companies who applied for licenses.

“This is shameful,” Camp Springs, Md.-based African American Cannabis Association President Joseph Gaskins told the AFRO. “We can go to jail for smoking and selling marijuana on the black market, but when it becomes legal, we can’t get a license. This is a situation that the state and governor needs to fix. It is not only not good for politics, [but]  this is [also] not good for business in Maryland. It is sending the wrong signal.”

According to the ACLU, there were 358 per 100,000 arrests in Prince George’s County for marijuana in  2013, compared to national average of 228 per 100,000 arrests. The county is the second highest in arrests in the state behind Baltimore city.

Regulators, along with Speaker of the House Michael Busch and Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller, who have been under extreme pressure from civil rights leaders and the Maryland Black Caucus, are walking a political tightrope in trying to appease Black investors and not having a major player in the industry despite the bill bearing the name of Natalie LaPrade, whose daughter is Black Caucus President Cheryl Glenn (D-Baltimore) and who has been a strong advocate for minority participation in the industry. She has suggested that no licenses be granted until the issue over Black ownership is resolved.

Until Aug. 14, only one of the 15 firms selected had received final permission to start cultivating medical marijuana, which was first legalized in the state in 2013. Even operating at full capacity no one firm can produce enough marijuana to support the 102 planned dispensaries.

Like the liquor industry, growers are wholesalers who have the ability to control the market by the amount of product they make available to the dispensaries. Some fear that the good old boy network will curtail some minority-owned dispensaries ability to compete.

The new licensees were announced at the Maryland Medical Marijuana Commission meeting on Aug. 14. Several companies had to move quickly to meet the deadline last Monday by becoming totally operational and showing the regulators they had the financial wherewithal to provide service as well as passing an extensive background check. Operators with felonies or limited financial resources were automatically disqualified. Before Monday, only one grow firm had been approved and there were 15 growing firms in the running for state approval. Growers also had to start operations or risk losing their preliminary licenses. There also are only nine licensed cultivators to provide cannabis to state dispensaries. Only one county firm – Holistic – received a grower and processor licenses.

There are 12,000 Maryland residents registered for potential eligibility for medical cannabis which comes in a variety of forms, including liquids, candy and of course the leaf which can be smoked. There are 400 doctors who have registered to become licensed cannabis recommenders. It is unclear how many minorities are among the patients or doctors. To date, there are 12 qualifying ailments that would allow a patent to have access to medical marijuana including cachexia, anorexia, wasting syndrome, severe pain, severe nausea, seizures, severe or persistent muscle spasms, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.

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