Members of the General Assembly’s Legislative Black Caucus on Wednesday called on the governor, speaker of the House and Senate president to convene a special session to address minority business disparities in the state’s medical marijuana program.
The call to reconvene the 188-member legislature comes less than two days after lawmakers wrapped up its 2017 session that included an effort to resolve the licensure issue and two lawsuits. That bill was in the process of a final vote when the clock struck midnight Tuesday.
It is not yet clear if a special session is in the cards as the speaker of the House and Senate president say they support returning to Annapolis and Gov. Larry Hogan is leaving it for the legislative leaders.
Del. Cheryl Glenn, D-Baltimore City and chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, and Sen. Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore City, called the death of the bill a deliberate act. They want a single-issue session to pass the bill.
“I have never been so angry or disappointed in the legislature in my three terms of service,” Glenn said. “What happened on Sine Die was orchestrated. Ray Charles could have seen what was happening.”
Conway said a special session could resolve the issue in short order.
“We could be in and out in 15 minutes,” Conway said prior to a meeting with reporters. “We could be out in five (minutes).”
Only the governor can call a special session of the General Assembly. He can do it on his own as an executive order or, if the legislature collects the signatures of a majority of lawmakers in each chamber, he is required to call lawmakers back into session.
“It is unconscionable what happened in the last 10 minutes of the legislative session,” Conway said.
But not every lawmaker agrees on the need for a special session. Sen. Steve Hershey, R-Upper Shore and Senate minority whip, said, “There’s absolutely no need for a special session.”
“This could have been passed any time during the 90-day session if it was a priority,” Hershey said.
Outlines of deal
The failed agreement, which had appeared to come together late in the final hours of the session, would have provided seven additional licenses on top of the 15 growers’ licenses that currently have preliminary approval.
Two of those licenses would be earmarked for businesses that initially made the final cut but were later bumped by the state medical cannabis commission because of concerns over geographic diversity.
The remaining five would be slated for minority-owned businesses.
But the vote fell through in the waning moments. A photo take of the House tally board just before midnight shows at least 85 votes in favor — enough for a veto-proof majority.
Still, the ability to get the legislature back to resolve the issue could hinge on an agreement about the legislation. Leaders of the Legislative Black Caucus saying the bill that died on Monday night should be the framework while some members of the House of Delegates want to focus on just the five licenses for minority businesses. The Senate wants a bill that also would result in the existing lawsuits challenging the licensing process being withdrawn.
Some observers were not optimistic an agreement can be reached.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said in a statement he would support a special session regardless of whether Hogan calls for one or it is petitioned by lawmakers.
“I believe the arbitrary actions of the existing cannabis commission leading to the current lawsuits could threaten the advancement of the program and further delay the availability of this important treatment option for patients,” Miller said in a statement. “In order to resolve all of the problems surrounding the flawed rollout of the program, I would support the rare event of a one-day special session as I believe we could expeditiously pass a bill representing what was eventually supported by both chambers but that the House could not get passed by midnight on Sine Die.”
House Speaker Michael E. Busch said in a statement that he would also support a special session to resolve the issue.
“If Governor Hogan calls a special session, I would support passing legislation that would address the inequities in the medical cannabis industry, with new licenses awarded after a disparity study, as included in two bills passed by the House in the last week of session,” Busch said in a statement. “I also ask Governor Hogan to issue an executive order to conduct the disparity study as soon as possible. We need the results of this study to determine what unfair business advantages exist in the industry that can be addressed by legislation. I call on the (medical cannabis) commission to not issue any new licenses until we get this resolved.”
Busch also called on the medical cannabis commission to provide a detailed explanation of why some lower-scoring proposals were selected above higher-scoring plans.
“The medical cannabis program in Maryland is critically important to the patients that seek this alternative therapy,” Busch said. “We cannot afford any more missteps in an already flawed rollout.”
An agreement on a final version of the bill would make it easier for the speaker to support an effort to petition the legislature back into session, according to a Busch spokeswoman.
Hogan has said over the last two days that he supports medical marijuana but has stopped short of saying whether he would call a special session.
“This is something that the president and speaker need to work out.” said Shareese DeLeaver-Churchill, a Hogan spokeswoman.