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Eye on Annapolis

The Daily Record's Maryland state government blog

Special session for cannabis? Busch says we just finished one

Busch, Miller appear to still be apart on whether to push for one

House Speaker Michael Busch, left, and Senate President Miller sit side by side during the 2017 Annapolis Summit. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

House Speaker Michael Busch, left, and Senate President Miller sit side by side during the 2017 Annapolis Summit. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Prospects of a special session on medical cannabis licenses continue to be dim as the leaders of the House and Senate have yet to agree to a bill or even to sit down and talk.

An effort to address a lack of minority business participation in the state’s fledgling medical marijuana growing industry failed at midnight on the final night of the 2017 General Assembly session. Despite having what appeared to be enough votes for passage, the House failed to take the final roll call before the clock struck midnight.

Leaders of the Black Legislative Caucus have since called for a special session and hinted at political fallout if one is not called, but House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. are divided on the issue and whether to bring lawmakers back to Annapolis.

“We just finished a special session. It went 90 days,” Busch said when asked about the issue after a Tuesday bill signing.

The leader of the House of Delegates took no additional questions and exited the room. Busch said in a statement last week he would support a special session if the legislation addressed issues regarding the lack of minority business participation similar to bills passed by the House earlier this year but rejected by the Senate.

But the bill-signing table is as close as Busch and Miller have gotten since last week, and there is no agreement on a bill. Members of the Legislative Black Caucus say a special session would last less than a day if the General Assembly could come back and simply pass the bill that died as the clock struck midnight.

Gov. Larry Hogan said earlier this week that he would be willing to call lawmakers back for a special session if the two legislative leaders agreed.

If only it were that easy.

“We haven’t talked about it,” Miller told reporters Tuesday. “I think that the issue is bills that have been done and bills that have been agreed upon. We’re not going to call a special session to renegotiate any bills.”

Miller didn’t elaborate Tuesday, but during an appearance last week on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU-FM, the Senate leader said the sticking point between the two chambers is the number of licenses.

“It’s a question of agreeing on the bill,” Miller told Nnamdi. “The speaker and I are pretty much in agreement on a bill except for the two licenses for people who got knocked out and (the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission) put two people in their place.”

The comments on the radio show reference what was the last offer from the Senate a week ago that would add seven licenses to the original 15 that have been preliminarily approved by the commission. The Senate plan calls for five of the additional licenses to go to minority-owned businesses. The remaining two would be earmarked for two companies — MD Cultivation and Processing in Frederick County and GTI Maryland in Washington County — that were in the original 15 growers and processors to receive initial approval by the commission.

The approval for those two companies was later rescinded, and the two were bumped to 16 and 17 on the list because of commission concerns about geographic diversity. Both companies have filed suit against the commission. Representatives for GTI Maryland told legislators earlier this year that they would withdraw their lawsuit if they received a license through legislation.

“There was a wrong that was done,” Miller said. “It can either be addressed next session, or there can be a special session. It would be best, especially for the minority community, that it be addressed posthaste.”

The House version of the bill focused solely on the diversity issue, providing five grower and five processor licenses under a disparity study; extra points would be awarded to MD Cultivation and Processing and GTI Maryland if they met the disparity study.

“The speaker does not think it is appropriate for the legislature to award two private companies a right by statute to a lucrative state license or appropriate to reach into existing civil litigation,” Alexandra Hughes, Busch’s chief of staff, said Wednesday.

 


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