Bruce Branch, founder and president of Branch Communications. (Courtesy Photo)

When former Governor Martin O’Malley signed into law the Medical Marijuana Law that led to the Natalie Laprade Commission which established a commission to oversee licensing in 2014, it was hailed as a new avenue for Blacks and minorities to participate in a new, but what was expected to be a lucrative industry. Most people felt that sense Blacks had suffered disproportionately through the criminal justice system when it came to marijuana, it was only natural that they benefit when the first steps toward total legalization were established.

Nothing could be further than the truth. The Commission which recently issued the first 15 licenses for growers, has come under attack and will likely be disbanded following charges of political cronyism and just plain old incompetence. Like the gaming industry that came before it, not one minority owned company received a license and many frustrated business owners such as Prince George’s County Administrative Judge Vicky Orem had her application lost while the commission was not able to give others a clear criteria on how the first licenses were distributed.

This whole thing has been jacked up,” said Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland Vice Chair Del. Darryl Barnes (D-24) of Prince George’s County.

Following a spate of lawsuits and political maneuvering the caucus, led by LaPrade’s daughter, Del. Cheryl D. Glenn (D-45) of Baltimore City, has been working diligently to rectify what most legislators and minority business owners considered to be a travesty of justice. Glenn has said privately that she believed a bill that would add five more licenses, presumably to give to minorities, had enough juice to pass and would go a long way in resolving the matter. While it wasn’t a perfect solution, it was a “workable solution,” considering the political capital it was going to take to get the bill to pass. A public hearing on the House (HB-1443) and Senate (SB099) version of the bills is scheduled for March 2 and March 3, respectively.

Meanwhile, Maryland State Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-26) of Fort Washington is offering his own solution through the introduction of his version of a Medical Marijuana bill that would add seven licenses for minority companies. Both bills have proposed eliminating the Maryland Cannabis Commission in favor of a less political and more professional body that would work within the framework of a government agency.

“The Commission in its present constitution was not formed to be a regulatory agency. The preliminary results in licensing showed a blatant inequality in gender, race, and geography, a disparity that may have been avoided had the Commission been established to be a regulatory agency reflective of the population they serve,” Muse said.

Glenn said Black lawmakers felt they had to do something.

” Before this problem is exacerbated, the Black Caucus is taking action to balance the playing fields for minorities,” she said in a recent message imploring supporters to show up in Annapolis for the hearing. “We cannot allow this multi-billion dollar industry to go without minority participation. The current Commissioners were trusted to set up a system that adhered to the letter of the law, but they went rogue. This licensing process and the results it produced were unacceptable. We are taking action but we need you to join in on this fight. There are two hearings scheduled on the Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Cannabis Commission Reform Act: We have the opportunity to ensure the opportunity for minorities to build generational wealth through the Medical Cannabis industry.”