The fight to get African Americans legally registered to produce and dispense medical marijuana in Maryland is far from over.

Different varieties of marijuana flowers are displayed at medical marijuana dispensary. (AP Photo/Gosia Wozniacka)

Cheryl Glenn, chair of Maryland’s Legislative Black Caucus (LBC), recently urged Maryland residents to join the LBC and demand the state’s lawmakers call a special session of the Maryland General Assembly to vote on legislation providing opportunities for African Americans to access the state’s lucrative new medical marijuana industry.

“It’s time to call on your delegate or senator to support the petition for a special session. The issue of African Americans purposely being excluded from this multi-billion-dollar industry of medical marijuana in the state of Maryland is institutional racism at its worse,” exclaimed Glenn to the applause of residents gathered for the first of four town hall meetings the LBC organized this summer.

Maryland’s nascent medical marijuana program has been fraught with controversy since the establishment of the Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Cannabis Commission. The LaPrade Commission, named in honor of Glenn’s mother, is responsible for approving application for growers and dispensers of medical marijuana.  Currently 15 businesses are approved for provisional licenses—none of them African-American owned establishments. Permanent licenses will be issued in August.

Glenn introduced legislation in the 2017 Maryland General Assembly Session stipulating five licenses for African-American growers/distributors.  Glenn sought to add teeth to state law requiring the LaPrade Commission to seek diversity.  Glenn’s bill would have also reconstituted the LaPrade Commission. The legislation failed to be introduced on the floor of the Legislature in the final hours of the General Assembly session that ended in April.  

“Senator Joan Carter Conway and myself have been working on this issue every day since the session ended. The issues that were controversial have been removed. So now, I don’t know what the controversy is except to say that there is a lot of money in play,” Glenn said.  

Glenn and Sen. Conway immediately appealed for a one-day special session in April to bring Glenn’s bill to a vote.

Gov. Larry Hogan failed to respond to calls for a special session.  The only other alternative is for most of General Assembly members to start a petition drive appealing to Hogan for a special session.

“The window of opportunity is only open for a short amount of time,” said Glenn regarding the special session to vote on legislation requiring representation by African Americans and other people of color in Maryland’s medical marijuana industry. “If we wait until the 2018 session to resolve this issue it would mean that it would be 2019 before anybody of color would get a license because of the process it takes to move regulations,” she said.

Dr. Paul Davies, chair of the LaPrade Commission, has hired a diversity consultant and will reassess the need for more processors, growers and dispensaries in 2018.

In May, Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams issued a temporary injunction against the Commission, temporarily halting the process of granting final licenses. The Commission admitted that it did not consider race when granting provisional licenses. On June 2, the Maryland Court of Appeals issued a stay on proceedings in Baltimore Circuit Court.  The action by the Appeals court superseded the Circuit hold placed on the medical marijuana process (which expired in early June).  For now, the process continues toward granting the state’s first permanent licenses to medical marijuana businesses in August 2017.   

Fees involved in opening a medical marijuana dispensary in Maryland include a $4,000 application fee and another $80,000 for the licensing fee. The license must be renewed every two years.

Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor