ELLICOTT CITY — Maryland’s medical marijuana commission is taking steps toward evaluating minority participation in the state’s nascent cannabis industry, the panel’s executive director said Monday after critics complained of a lack of minority-owned businesses among finalists to grow and the process the drug.
Patrick Jameson said key factors are still evolving and changing by the day as the industry gets established, but the commission highly encourages applicants for these licenses to “engage and recruit minority owners, investors and employees where practical.”
The plan is to hire a diversity consultant to evaluate the feasibility of conducting a disparity study on hiring practices in the industry, and “we would look for their recommendations,” Jameson said. “The commission believes that diversity is essential, an important and a key component to this industry.”
Del. Cheryl Glenn, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, has spoken of plans to introduce legislation in the upcoming session to address diversity shortcomings.
The commission also met in closed session to discuss litigation over the licensing, said Dr. Paul Davies, the commission’s chairman. Two would-be growers are suing the panel after initially scoring in the top 15, only to be replaced by other companies to address geographic diversity. Another applicant is suing over the lack of diversity evident thus far.
The 15 growers and 15 processors named as finalists must pass background checks before being awarded a license.
Meanwhile, the commission gave preliminary approval for 102 dispensaries. They were chosen in a blind review designed to avoid favoritism, and their names will be made public Dec. 9. Each of Maryland’s 47 state Senate districts can have up to two dispensaries and the 15 marijuana growers also could apply to open a dispensary, for a total of up to 109. Of the finalists approved Monday, two Senate districts had only one dispensary, while the others each had two. Five growers did not apply for licenses.
Steven Johnson, the chief operating officer of Kisima Nursery, is hoping his company has been chosen as a dispensary finalist for Prince George’s County. Johnson, who is black, is disappointed at not being named a finalist to grow or process the marijuana. For him, the plan to hire a diversity consultant comes too little, too late, he said.
“Going forward, it might be helpful, but for those who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and two and a half years of our life, it doesn’t help us at all,” Johnson said, adding that about $250,000 was invested in his proposal.