The Maryland General Assembly’s Legislative Black Caucus (LBC) members had tough questions for State Agency officials and The Medical Cannabis Commission about Maryland’s nascent medical cannabis industry, during recent hearing in Annapolis.

Legislative Black Caucus Chair, Del. Cheryl Glenn
(AP Photo/Brian Witte)

Caucus Chair, Del. Cheryl Glenn (D-45) told the chamber that she had assurances from Senate President Thomas “Mike” Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch that the bill she and Caucus leaders will develop to get more minority businesses at the table will be “fast tracked” for immediate passage by the General Assembly.

“I have been assured that our bill will be House Bill and Senate Bill number one on the first day the General Assembly is in session,” Glenn said.

Glenn and others called for a special session during the summer to pass legislation expanding the number of licenses Maryland issued for growing and processing medical cannabis after a similar effort failed in the last days of the 2017 session. The legislature did not come back into session after Miller and Busch promised to fast track the legislation in 2018. In the spring, the Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Cannabis Commission issued 15 licenses – none to minority businesses.

“No one should expect us to have any trust if it doesn’t go the way that we have been told it will go,” warned Glenn.  She hinted that the 50-member LBC will withhold cooperation on other General Assembly legislation if leadership does not follow-through on its promise to fast track medical cannabis legislation.

The LBC hearing resulted in a dismal report on progress for African Americans interested in getting into the medical cannabis industry since the end of the 2017 General Assembly Session.  In July, Governor Larry Hogan appointed 10 new commissioners to the Medical Cannabis Commission, including incoming chair, Brian P. Lopez, who testified before the LBC.

Lopez pledged cooperation with the Legislative Black Caucus, saying he wanted to change the tone of the Commission.

“I reached out to Delegate Glenn a few weeks ago.  I wanted to get her thinking,” Lopez said. “We agreed that we wanted an open dialogue and to work collaboratively.”  The Medical Cannabis Commission has come under fire after failing to approve any African American vendors despite  the state law requiring the Commission to actively seek diversity in awarding licenses.

“With the little insight that I do have about that commission, it’s been a lot of funny playing going on with that commission. It’s a lot of voodoo things that’s been going on in that commission,” said Delegate Bilal Ali (D-41).

Delegate Nick J, Mosby (D-40) questioned state officials conducting a disparity study required by Hogan to analyze whether disadvantages exist in the cannabis industry.

“What is the projected timeline for delivery of this report,” Mosby said, raising concerns about the report’s conclusion before the promised General Assembly emergency legislation.

“We have to do this analysis properly, objectively and without any input for various stakeholders,” said Jimmy Rhee, Governor Hogan’s advisor for Minority Business Affairs.

Medical cannabis advocates and potential Black cannabis entrepreneurs expressed concerns about accessing start-up funds needed to support entry into the industry.  The Commission’s fee for growers is $125,000 for a two-year license. Dispensary fees are $40,000 annually.

“I would implore the Caucus to do a couple of things,” said Bruce Branch, of Maryland’s Business Clergy and Partnership.  “Why don’t we take a portion of all the drug money confiscated in the community and put it in a fund. This way, African Americans who do not have access to capital can go and get the help that they need.”