The governor of Maryland is demanding a study be conducted to increase diversity in the state’s new medical marijuana industry.
“As the issue of promoting diversity is of great importance to me and my administration, your office should begin this process immediately in order to ensure opportunities for minority participation in the industry,” wrote governor Larry Hogan to the Governor’s Office of Minority Affairs, after most of the businesses who were approved for cultivation licenses in 2016 had white owners.
Hogan’s letter comes after a failed attempt by the General Assembly to reserve additional permits for businesses owned by minorities. Maryland’s medical marijuana laws have provisions for ethnic diversity, but it appears the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission did not consider race when reviewing applicants. The state’s Attorney General’s office suggested that evaluating applicants based on race could conflict with the constitution. Members of the Legislative Black Caucus criticized the commission for giving up too easily on the push towards diversity.
In the marijuana industry, ethnic diversity has been a priority for advocates who understand the racial inequality of anti-drug legislation. In news not surprising to the ACLU, it was revealed that Richard Nixon’s drug war was less about illicit substances and more about marginalizing ethnic minorities and liberal social movements, according to a former aide. As the drug war developed decades later, African Americans are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person.
Hogan’s pursuit of diversity may not be successful, but lawmakers elsewhere are making similar attempts. City Council officials in Oakland, CA passed an amendment to allow permits be given specifically to applicants who have been the victim of unjust marijuana laws. Councilwoman Desley Brooks, who proposed the amendment, saw a clear need for diversity in among marijuana business owners.
“When we look at the eight we have one that is owned by an African-American. One out of eight,” Brooks said. “Everybody ought to have an opportunity to compete.”
The city is considering expanding the amendment to broad the criteria to include a larger number of potential applicants.
For now, Hogan is asking that state agencies work together “as expeditiously as possible,” to come up with a solution. There is speculation that a special legislative session could be organized to produce a bill, but the logistics of such a session seem to be befuddling lawmakers.