By Deborah Bailey, Special to the AFRO

Legislation to increase the number of minority vendors in Maryland’s medical marijuana industry is teetering on the brink of successful passage as the Maryland General Assembly races toward the end of the 2018 session.  Maryland State House and Senate members must move quickly to reconcile differences in their respective versions of the bill before Monday, April 9 at midnight for the bill to be sent to Gov. Larry Hogan to sign into law.

SB-0001, The Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Cannabis Commission Reform Act establishes new caps for medical cannabis growers and processors in Maryland, reconstitutes the Medical Cannabis Commission, and requires extensive outreach to encourage minority and small business owners to participate in the industry. The 2018 bill gives the Commission authority to make grants to “assist small, minority, and women business owners and entrepreneurs seeking to become licensed.”

HB-0002, The House of Delegates’ companion bill, passed in March and has been vigorously championed for the past two years by Del. Cheryl D. Glenn (D-45), immediate past chair of the Legislative Black Caucus.  The 2017 minority medical cannabis legislation dramatically failed to gain final passage in the concluding minutes of the General Assembly session.

“We were all disappointed with this critical legislation not passing before Sine Die last year,” Senate President Mike Miller, D-Dist. 27, told the AFRO.

“I have already met with the Speaker on this issue, and we are both determined to have this issue resolved well before midnight on Monday,” Miller vowed.

Dels. Joseline A. Pena-Melnyk (D-21), Samuel Rosenberg (D-41) and Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-31B) and Sens. Brian J. Feldman (D-15), Joanne C. Benson (D-24) and Edward R. Reilly (R-33) have been appointed to iron out the differences remaining in the House and Senate versions of the bill.

Identical bills must go back for consideration in each chamber and receive approval before midnight on Monday before the Black Caucus and minority medical marijuana industry advocates can claim victory.

In late April 2017, with the sting of the failed legislation still angering Glenn and the Legislative Black Caucus, Hogan ordered a study of racial disparities in the state’s medical marijuana industry, responding to frustration with the relative lack of opportunity for businesses of color in a state with 30 percent African-American population.

“As the issue of promoting diversity is of great importance to me and my administration, your office (Maryland Office of Transportation) should begin this process immediately to ensure opportunities for minority participation in the industry,” Hogan said in the letter ordering the study.

National Economic Research Associates (NERA), the Texas-based firm contracted to investigate and report on minority inclusion in the medical marijuana industry as well as industries throughout Maryland, concluded the state still has a long way to go.

“Minorities and women in the Maryland market area continue to experience statistically significant disparities in their access to State and private sector contracts and in those factors necessary for business success,” wrote NERA Managing Director Jon Wainwright to state officials.