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Md. medical cannabis bill shuffles to finish line as session nears close

Senate Pres. Thomas V. "Mike" Miller. (file)

Senate President Thomas V. ‘Mike’ Miller. (file)

ANNAPOLIS — The leader of the Maryland Senate is urging lawmakers to move quickly to pass a bill expanding medical cannabis licenses in the state as the session winds down.

The emergency bill, which would expand the number of licenses for growers and processors, was expected by its sponsor to be on the governor’s desk early in the session. But as the session enters the final six days, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. expressed concern for a replay of 2017 in which a similar effort died in the final seconds of the last day.

“What happened last year was it went down to the last night of the session because of amendments, pride, different reasons. It didn’t get done,” Miller said, adding would-be licensees “are behind the eight ball trying to get started up.”

“This cannot be where we were last year,” Miller told the Senate Tuesday. “This is a very delicate bill.”

A final Senate vote on an amended version of legislation that started in the House was delayed Tuesday after a number of senators proposed additional changes, including one that would prevent people convicted of possessing substantial amounts of marijuana and other illicit drugs from being eligible for licenses.

Under a change proposed in the bill, anyone who has not had a drug conviction in the past seven years would be eligible. That provision would not apply to so-called kingpin dealers.

The legislation introduced this year was meant to expand the number of licenses for growers in what is expected to be a lucrative industry in Maryland. Members of the Legislative Black Caucus sponsored the changes in an effort to bring minorities into the industry — all of the growing licenses have been awarded to businesses with white owners.

“We’ve got these 14 or 15 license that have been awarded under a different standard, and now we’re trying to redress a wrong with this bill, particularly with regard to minority licenses that were left out during the process,” Miller said.

Senate amendments changed the House bill to add seven licenses to the original 15 growing licenses and to double the number of processor licenses to 30.

Two of the seven licenses would be set aside for majority, white-owned companies that were bumped out of the original top 15 for “geographic diversity.”

The changes also add a provision that would permanently eliminate a grower license if an awardee were not able to open.

There are, however, no provisions in the bill that specifically earmark license for minority owners. Instead, those will be governed through regulations that would be drawn up later this spring and would provide more opportunities for minority owners without a guarantee of an actual license.

The same issue a year ago brought the end of the 2017 session to a rancorous ending as time ran out while the House of Delegates was attempting to pass similar legislation.

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.

That bill also contained a provision to award two of those licenses to those 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 were slated for minority-owned businesses.

But the vote fell through in the waning moments.

It is unclear if the House will accept the amendments. Miller is expecting additional delays as lawmakers attempt to pass the bill before midnight Monday.


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