Local BusinessWilliam J. Ford

Diversity, Equity Sought in Medical Cannabis Industry

So far, prospective medical cannabis business owners in Maryland say the state has fewer than 1 percent of Black applicants who are awarded licenses.

As the state’s Medical Cannabis Commission seeks to obtain an independent contractor to investigate whether this year’s application process was conducted fairly, an “equity in cannabis” rally will take place Thursday, Dec. 5 in Annapolis.

According to a flyer, participants ask that “30 percent of medical cannabis licenses be awarded to African Americans.”

Vicky Orem, an attorney from Prince George’s County who seeks to open a business called A Healing Leaf, said the 30 percent figure comes from the number of Blacks who reside in the state.

“We want the commission to follow the legislative mandate,” said Orem, who also serves as a judge in the county’s Orphans’ Court. “We want to take this to the people so the people can understand that Maryland is on the trend of violating civil rights. It should not be a white-only industry.”

Complaints from other medical cannabis applicants and members of the Maryland Black Caucus became public in September after claims of impropriety and unfairness caused the commission to not award 10 processors and four growers among 200 applications.

On the same day, a Montgomery County judge issued a temporary order for the commission not to announce any awards based on a lawsuit filed by Remileaf. The company disputes a claim it missed a commission deadline.

Another concern comes from state legislation approved last year the commission incorporate race as part of the application process to award applicants to ensure racial diversity. The mandate came months after a disparity study concluded minorities and women-owned businesses are at a disadvantage in the industry.

In the meantime, the commission’s request for proposal document notes part of the contractor’s purpose “to investigate whether the [2019] process was completed according to the MMCC’s agreement with Morgan State University, whether the process was unbiased and merit-based, and whether the process was subject to any undue influence.”

Orem and two other companies, Roundtable Wellness and Nature’s Healing Concept, filed complaints Oct. 24 in their county circuit courts to order an injunction to ensure the commission doesn’t award pre-approval licenses and review and judge all applications.

“The public interest is also served by correcting a flawed, administrative process,” the complaint states. “Holding the commission accountable to fulfill its statutory responsibilities, exercise good judgment, not act in an arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, or illegal manner and engage in reasoned decision-making will ensure effective oversight of the industry.”

Willie Flowers, president of the Maryland NAACP State Conference, said he plans to attend the rally. The state conference hasn’t taken a position on the particular complaints, he said.

“We support pursuit toward equity in the process, but we are more interested in decriminalizing cannabis in general,” he said. “Considering the long history of criminalizing among African Americans, that is what needs to be discussed to have a full conversation.”

Meanwhile, The Baltimore Sun reported last week that legalizing marijuana for recreational use may not happen when state lawmakers convene Jan. 8.

A work group composed of state delegates and senators are scheduled to meet this month to present a final list of marijuana recommendations.

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William J. Ford – Washington Informer Staff Writer

I decided I wanted to become a better writer while attending Bowie State University and figured that writing for the school newspaper would help. I’m not sure how much it helped, but I enjoyed it so much I decided to keep on doing it, which I still thoroughly enjoy 20 years later. If I weren’t a journalist, I would coach youth basketball. Actually, I still play basketball, or at least try to play, once a week. My kryptonite is peanut butter. What makes me happy – seeing my son and two godchildren grow up. On the other hand, a bad call made by an official during a football or basketball game makes me throw up my hands and scream. Favorite foods include pancakes and scrambled eggs which I could eat 24-7. The strangest thing that’s ever happened to me, or more accurately the most painful, was when I was hit by a car on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia. If I had the power or money to change the world, I’d make sure everyone had three meals a day. And while I don’t have a motto or favorite quote, I continue to laugh which keeps me from driving myself crazy. You can reach me several ways: Twitter @jabariwill, Instagram will_iam.ford2281 or e-mail, wford@washingtoninformer.com

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