ANNAPOLIS — As the Maryland General Assembly winds for the year and lawmakers aggressively pursue high-priority legislation, a potentially fiery debate is shaping up in the House over a bill for medical marijuana.
The legislation — House Bill 1443 — pushes for the Natalie M. LaPrade Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission to include more minority- and women-owned businesses in the application process.
It could’ve moved a step closer to approval in the House, but was placed on special order, or postponed, Friday.
“It will be a tremendous floor fight on Monday,” said Delegate Cheryl Glenn, a Democrat from Baltimore City and lead sponsor of the legislation. “But I am ready for it.”
Glenn said the commission, named after her late mother, has become part of the institutional racism in the medical cannabis industry and used a “corrupt process” to award preliminary licenses last year.
Her legislation also seeks to revamp the scoring system and “actively seek to achieve racial, ethnic and geographic diversity when licensing medical cannabis [applicants].” The state approved preliminary licenses last year for 15 grower applications, 15 processor applicants and 102 dispensaries.
Glenn’s legislation has moved along further in the House, but a companion bill is still in the Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee.
Meanwhile, Vicky L. Orem, a Greenbelt attorney and orphans court judge in Prince George’s County, filed a civil complaint earlier this month in U.S. District Court in Baltimore against the commission after her application for a grower’s license was rejected last year.
According to the complaint, Orem’s company A Healing Leaf didn’t receive an opportunity to restore any changes in the applications process that included a submission of application as a PDF document versus a Word format.
In addition, the commission refused to provide an answer to why her application was denied.
“I want to be able to get a license to grow medical cannabis,” Orem said in an interview Saturday. “It’s a million-dollar business and minorities should not be excluded from that opportunity.”
This complaint marks as one of the reason the commission must change, said Glenn, who aims to “set the tone for ending the institutional racism that we see in this industry around the country.”
“Less than 1 percent of the licenses are owned by African-Americans and other minorities,” she said. “It is unconscionable we would move forward with a program and not have African-American ownership.”