The 2017 session of the Maryland General Assembly ended with an unexpected defeat on Medical Marijuana licensing, one of several major initiatives supported by the 50-member Legislative Black Caucus (LBC).  The group delivered on  several promises made on key issues of importance to African-American residents across the state, but the 11th hour loss on one of the signature issues adopted and fought for by the LBC was an unwelcome blow, according to Delegate Cheryl Glenn, (D.45-Baltimore City) LBC Chair.

Delegate Cheryl Glenn, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, calls for a special session to approve additional licenses to grow medical marijuana to create diversity ownership of businesses in Maryland’s developing industry. State Sen. Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore, is standing next to Glenn at left. Attorney Billy Murphy is standing behind Glenn at right, and Del. Nick Mosby, D-Baltimore, is standing behind Glenn at left. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

The LBC started the 2017 session with seven priorities according to their web site – the current HBCU Equity Lawsuit, prescription drug affordability, medical marijuana licensing, banning pre-k suspensions, bail reform, the Educational Equity Initiative – i.e. return of control of Baltimore City Public Schools to the Mayor’s Office and Police Practices and Public Safety.

In an exclusive interview with the AFRO, Glenn said that in spite of the failure of the Medical Marijuana licensing bill, which would have increased from zero the number of minority owned firms allowed to legally grow, sell and distribute medical marijuana, the LBC firmly delivered on a number of the seven agenda items.

At a news conference on April 12 Glenn and Senator Joan Carter Conway, among others, urged Gov. Larry Hogan, Senate President Miller and House Speaker Busch to call a special session of the legislature to pass the medical marijuana bill.

Maryland’s HBCU’s

While the LBC set out to make Maryland’s HBCU’s a high priority, it failed to pass SB-712. The Blount-Rawlings-Britt HBI Comparability Program, which would have created equitable funding between Maryland’s HBCU’s and predominately White institutions.  The legislation, sponsored in one form or another for more than a decade by Senator Joan Carter-Conway, enjoyed the support of the HBCU Matters Coalition, Maryland State NAACP, and a consortium of advocacy groups who emphasized the need for both court and legislative action on behalf of HBCU’s.

Despite SB-712’s demise in committee, Glenn said the LBC stands united behind the issue of equity for the state’s four HBCU’s. “Once the Court decision is rendered, we’re going to do everything that we can to make sure the state of Maryland does not appeal the decision of the court so we can bring an end to this longstanding fight for justice and equity in funding for our HBCU’s,” Glenn said referring to the pending decision by the U.S. District Court of Maryland in the remedial phase of the HBCU Equity Case.

Medical Marijuana

Assuring African-Americans are part of the lucrative new Medical Marijuana market was one of the biggest legislative fights this session, according to Glenn.   Glenn’s bill, HB 1443 included “a minimum of five new licenses for growers and five new licenses for processors to be awarded to African American owners and other minorities,” Glenn said based on the results of a disparities study mandated by law.

The legislation got down to the wire and Glenn and other LBC members believed final passage of the bill was imminent.  However, the session clock ran out at midnight on the final day of the 2017 session before the bill was brought back for a final vote.

The inclusion of vendors of color in the lucrative medical marijuana market has been a major concern for African-American medical cannabis advocacy organizations.  The African American Cannabis Association, (AACA) rallied at the State Capital on behalf of minority cannabis growers. “Unfortunately, when minority inclusion has been written into legislation, there is a struggle to gain support and passage into law,” said Joe Gaskins, a spokesman for the AACA, which supported of Glenn’s bill.

Bail Reform

Glenn said that while the LBC stood united on the key goal of removing undue burdens on lo-income Marylanders accused of nonviolent crimes, there were distinct disagreements in the methods to achieve the goal this session.

“At the end of the day the Court of Appeals rendered a decision on bail reform and the implementation date of that new rule is July 1,” Glenn said referring to the unanimous but highly controversial decision made by Maryland’s highest court in Feb. directing judges and court officials to seek other ways to ensure a defendant appears for trial when s/he cannot make bail.

“It’s a good thing because all the advocates of bail reform feel strongly the new rule will do what we need it to do. That is to ensure people don’t languish in jail just because they can’t afford bail who have committed nonviolent crimes,” Glenn stated.

Glenn said data on the impact of the Court of Appeals ruling would be given to the Legislature monthly so LBC Senators and Delegates can review the success of the rule before the 2018 session. “Additionally, the Legislative Black Caucus will sponsor a workgroup to look at Bail reform in all jurisdictions of the state,” Glenn said.

The LBC ended up waging a major fight to oppose bail reform legislation sponsored by one of its own members, Senator C. Anthony Muse, (D 26- PG County). Muse’s bill would have interfered with the court rule, said Glenn. “The Black Caucus was absolutely responsible for helping to defeat Senate Bill 983.”

Other successful efforts waged by the LBC included restoring the right for Baltimore City Government officials to be solely responsible for appointing Public School Board members and banning pharmaceutical price gouging.

Glenn said the LBC would work throughout the summer and fall on priority issues and communication with residents across the state.  LBC will host community forums in Prince George’s County, Baltimore City, Charles County and Eastern Shore, Maryland before the start of the 2018 session to constituents weigh-in throughout the state.

“We also will be monitoring the decision of the courts on HBCU’s so we will be prepared for the next level of fight on that issue,” Glenn said. Finally, the LBC will host another official public hearing and a strategic think tank to involve citizens and interest groups in voicing issues for inclusion in the group’s 2018 legislative agenda.

“We will establish our priority agenda for 2018 and be ready to roll out our priority agenda on opening day next year.”