ANNAPOLIS — Claims of impropriety and unfairness caused a Maryland committee to not award applicants who sought inclusion in the medical cannabis industry.
A decision scheduled last week from the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission pauses an effort for diversity to include Black representation in the multimillion-dollar industry.
The commission planned to award 10 processors and four growers amongst 200 applications before it disbands Tuesday, Oct. 1 with replacement members.
The disbandment became in effect after a disparity study showed the industry lacked minority representation, which forced state lawmakers put in legislation last year to ensure more minority and women-owned businesses in the cannabis industry. Former Executive Director Joy A. Strand announced her resignation last month and her last day will be Tuesday.
“From the phone calls we have received, there seems to be some impropriety going on that we want to make sure that everything is legit,” Del. Darryl Barnes (D-District 25) of Upper Marlboro said to reporters Thursday, Sept. 26 after the commission’s announcement in Annapolis. “I have too many African Americans who worked extremely hard, put in a whole lot of money [and] for them not to have an opportunity doesn’t sit well with me.”
Barnes, who chairs the state’s Legislative Black Caucus, sent a letter dated Sept. 25 to commission chair Brian Lopez asking “for a delay in assigning” because of “significant issues and concerns raised about the process being used to determine winners and losers for these new licenses.”
Later that same day, a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge ordered the commission to not announce any awards for preapproval licenses based on a lawsuit filed by Remileaf.
According to the complaint, the judge ruled the state couldn’t grant any licenses until Monday, Oct. 7, pending a hearing on the case.
On Thursday, Lopez didn’t say how long it would take to award winners and didn’t mention the judge’s restraining order during the commission session.
“It’s been determined more time is need to review,” he said. “We are going to make sure we have good, quality applications.”
Barnes and Del. Cheryl Glenn said they don’t know if any of the applicants affected are Black and weren’t going to assign blame, but they did receive complaints that the process didn’t seem fair. There’s an allegation some companies that sought licenses in Maryland reside out of state.
“We made it clear that Maryland state residency meant something,” Glenn said. The legislation approved last year “was not for the purposes of expanding the footprint to hedge fund companies out of Maryland and even out of the country.”
Meanwhile, some prospective applicants now sit in limbo.
Although relieved more research will be done to assess the application process, prospective applicants such as Jacquie Cohen Roth of Annapolis are still frustrated the process could be flawed, especially not knowing how they scored on the application.
“It would be good to know. Heck, we have the right to now,” said Roth, who owns CannabizMD and applied for both a processor and grower licenses.
Keith Ford Jr., who owns a cannabis company called Uplift and also applied for both licenses, expressed optimism he will open a business in Prince George’s County.
“Our goal is really to train our community for the future economy [and] for the future industry that is here,” Ford, 29, said. “We’re here and it’s on us to … make sure we do everything that we can do to put ourselves in the best position.”