ANNAPOLIS — Maryland lawmakers in the Senate received a high amount of testimony Thursday with a major focus on medical marijuana.
Advocates spoke during a hearing before the Judiciary Proceedings Committee in support of legislation to expanding the number of dispensary licenses from 15 to 25 and change the scoring system to include racial and ethnic diversity.
In addition, the advocates called to disband the 15-member Natalie M. Laprade Medical Cannabis Commission and create it as a division within the state’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
“Although I was advised initially that my company’s proposal was in order, I was told a year later during debriefing that my application was not reviewed because the electronic version was submitted in PDF rather than a Word format,” said Vicky Orem, who owns a law office in Greenbelt and was denied a grower’s medical marijuana license last year. “The commission … failed to notify me and give me three days to cure.”
Black lawmakers seek to approve two bills — SB 267 and SB 999 — that would ensure racial and geographic diversity in the marijuana program. Sen. Joan Carter of Baltimore City is the lead sponsor of both bills.
Delegate Cheryl Glenn, also of Baltimore City, sponsored companion legislation in the House. The medical cannabis commission is named after her late mother.
The current law states the commission should use those two factors in assessing applications, but didn’t based on advice from the attorney general’s office that race didn’t need to be a reason if there was no pattern of past discrimination.
The hearing got a bit testy when one of the commissioners, Eric Sterling, defended the commission’s process. The state approved preliminary licenses last year for 15 grower applications, 15 processor applicants and 102 dispensaries.
Sterling and opponents of the proposed legislation said it will delay the process this summer to distribute medical cannabis to patients. Some people wore white T-shirts that read “#NoMoreDelays.”
“We are not experts at the administration of the state’s business,” said Sterling, an attorney who’s worked on medical marijuana topics. “We were chosen based on our expertise.”
Sen. James Brochin of Baltimore City said the commission didn’t follow the law.
Committee Vice Chairwoman Delores G. Kelley, also of Baltimore City, bluntly told Sterling that he was “clearly over [his] head” serving on his first state board.
If approved by July, the new division would present an annual report to highlight the number of minority owners, ownership share of minority owners and number of minority employees of a license grower, processor and dispensary.
With the legalization of marijuana in Maryland being approved in 2015, lawmakers are now discussing how to make it legal for recreational purposes.
According to Senate Bill 928, the amount of personal use is classified as:
• An ounce or less in dried plant form;
• Five grams or less of hashish oil, gel or solid extracts or concentrates made from cannabis when intended for smoking or vaporizing;
• 12 servings combined with food and beverage products;
• 72 ounces in a cream, gel or liquid form for topical applications; or
• Any combination of the above.
In another comparable bill on marijuana, a person could also possess up to two ounces at any time.
Eugene Monroe, a former offensive tackle with the Baltimore Ravens who retired last year, testified last week on trying to promote the use of marijuana as a medical alternative to prescription over-the-counter medicine in the NFL.
He also supports the plant being used recreationally.
“Recreational marijuana solves issues around medical marijuana,” said Monroe, who’s invested with Green Thumb Industries of Chicago, which has a pending lawsuit in Baltimore against the state’s medical cannabis commission for rejecting its application to open a business. “There’s ton of anecdotal evidence around the county to how the medicine has approved the quality of their life. I fully believe in it.”
However, others aren’t so sure such as the Prince George’s County Police Department and AAA Mid-Atlantic.
Since smoking marijuana remains legal in neighboring District of Columbia, AAA spokesman John Townsend II said recreational use in Maryland would create unsafe driving conditions throughout the region, especially for those who both smoke and drink alcohol. The organization published a report last year that highlighted how drugged drivers still pose a threat on the roads.
“The traffic safety implications have not been looked at,” he said. “People have a right to smoke in their own home, but you don’t have the right to get behind the wheel of a car after smoking pot. That’s where the danger comes.”