Ownership of medical-pot companies, problem policing highlighted by lawmakers

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The president of the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus said Thursday that the group is committed to introducing emergency legislation to pause the state’s medical marijuana program until questions surrounding racial disparities in the awarding of growing licenses are resolved.

“This is an urgent issue,” said Del. Cheryl D. Glenn (D-Baltimore), who is president of the group. “We are not going to let . . . the black community get shut out of this market.”

None of the 15 growing licenses awarded by the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission this summer went to companies led by African Americans, even though the state is 30 percent black and legislation creating the medical marijuana industry calls for regulators to “actively seek to achieve” racial and ethnic diversity in selecting cultivators.

Sen. Joanne Benson (D-Prince George’s), who was visibly angry during the hearing, said the issue is one of equity and fairness and called the process “a step backwards for us.”

Caucus members considered various suggestions, including requiring the commission to restart the program or to license 10 more growing companies. The commission has said it does not want any further delays to the program.

Glenn, however, said she favors a restart. Companies that have already received an initial clearance would have an unfair advantage, she said, if they are allowed to continue developing their businesses while 10 firms are added. Glenn argued that because the black community has been disproportionately affected by illegal marijuana, black business leaders should participate in the medical cannabis industry now that it is legal.

The caucus members also heard suggestions for possible legislative remedies to discriminatory policing in Baltimore, which was the focus of a scathing report this summer by the U.S. Department of Justice.

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