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Best Week, Worst Week: Howard Bank makes a big move; cannabis businesses hope their opportunity isn’t slipping away

best-worst-081917The Baltimore commercial loan market got some potentially good news this week when Howard Bank announced it was acquiring 1st Mariner Bank while some of the nearly 20 companies seeking to grow or process medical cannabis in Maryland grew closer to having their licenses rescinded by a state commission.

Daily Record business writer Tim Curtis reported Tuesday that Howard Bancorp will acquire 1st Mariner Bank, creating the largest community bank in Maryland with 21 branches and $2.1 billion in assets.

Howard Bank CEO Mary Ann Scully, who will remain chairman and CEO of the combined bank, called the acquisition “transformational” and believes a move into 1st Mariner’s offices in Baltimore will put the larger Howard Bank in position to take advantage of an underserved Baltimore commercial market.

1st Mariner CEO Robert Kunisch, who had just been named as CEO of 1st Mariner last month, will serve as president of the new Howard Bank.

The deal closes a recently rocky period for 1st Mariner. The bank was sold in June 2014 to local investors after a bankruptcy sale and recapitalization. The bank had struggled for years, posting a loss in every quarter of 2013. Last year, it began a restructuring of its branch management to focus on bringing in more small businesses as clients. Since 1st Mariner’s recapitalization, residential real estate loans have declined as a percentage of its portfolio, from 40.7 percent to 33.6 percent. Its focus on commercial and industrial loans increased from 3.4 percent to 13 percent.

Meanwhile, companies looking to grow or process medical cannabis in Maryland are scrambling to keep from losing their licenses.

Government affairs writer Bryan P. Sears reported Monday that the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission was being urged by the executive director of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission to consider extensions of the one-year deadline to receive final approval on a case-by-case basis for companies that have legitimate reasons for seeking an extension.

Monday’s meeting marked the end of the 365-day period for companies who were awarded pre-approval for a license to show the commission they were ready to begin operations and apply for approval. The commission gave final approval for growing or processing licenses to nine additional companies as its meeting. Seven growers and 11 processors have yet to receive that approval.

At least two companies were completing their reviews on Monday, others were expected to happen soon and some were asked to submit detailed letters explaining their situations and the reasons for any extension.