A judge has ordered the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission to stop awarding licenses to growers for ten days, due to a lawsuit filed on behalf of Alternative Medicine Maryland.
The suit alleges the commission did not take into account racial diversity when awarding licenses. A state law required that the commission “actively seek to achieve racial, ethnic and geographic diversity when licensing medical cannabis growers.” Fifteen preliminary approvals have been awarded to growers, all of which had white owners. Each license represents millions of dollars in a brand new state industry where there’s a cap on the number of growers, which means less competition in the market and a greater chance of success for each business.
Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams said in his ruling he granted the motion “on the grounds that irreparable harm will result to plaintiff in the form of loss of ability, once all licenses are issued.” Members of the commission said that they did not take racial diversity into account based on a recommendation by the attorney general’s office, which suggested that unless there was proof of racial discrimination within the industry, awarding licenses based on race would be a violation of the constitution. Assistant Attorney General Heather Nelson is representing the commission in the lawsuit.
There have been several delays and controversies surrounding Maryland’s medical marijuana program. Governor Larry Hogan has openly demanded that the commission promote racial diversity when awarding licenses to medical marijuana businesses. The commission went through an opaque approval process, which included re-prioritizing the list of applicants based on geographic location in an apparent attempt to distribute growers evenly throughout the state. There are two other pending lawsuits that criticize this decision as well.
The push for diversity is an attempt at balance after a drug war that predominantly targeted African Americans. Research conducted by the ACLU revealed that African Americans were 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, even though there is little correlation between race and drug use. Promoting diversity in the cannabis industry would be a small step in rectifying decades of racist drug policy.
ForwardGro was the first company to receive a growing license last week, four years after they submitted their request for a license. They have been authorized to continue cultivation during the court proceedings, but will be required to defend their place in the industry on June 2nd. CFO of ForwardGro Gail Rand has not commented on the lawsuit.
Those who have been pre-approved for licenses are part of the Maryland Wholesale Medical Cannabis Trade Association. The chairman for the group defended the commission’s decision, pointing out that the same individuals who operate Alternative Medicine Maryland were denied a license in New York as well. Jake Van Wingerden, chairman of the trade group, said,
“AMM is simply not qualified to deliver high-quality medical cannabis to patients, and the Circuit Court should not let a failed out-of-state company cause even further delays in Maryland’s medical cannabis program.”
Members of the Legislative Black Caucus are trying to pass a law that would reserve five cultivation licenses for African American-owned businesses, and are trying to establish a special legislative session in order to pass it.