Maryland medical pot panel takes steps to diversify industry

Maryland medical cannabis regulators plan to hire a diversity consultant in an attempt to quell a firestorm of criticism over the underrepresentation of African Americans in the businesses pre-approved to grow marijuana.

The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission announced the plans at a meeting Monday, where it also awarded 102 preliminary licenses to open medical marijuana dispensaries across the state and near marijuana growing sites. The identities of those companies will not be revealed until Dec. 9, pending initial vetting.

The commission did not give extra weight to minority-owned marijuana business applicants, citing advice from the attorney general’s office questioning the constitutionality of racial preferences. Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) has since said those preferences could be justified if studies of similar industries, such as drug manufacturing, found racial disparities.

Commission spokeswoman Vanessa Lyon said the diversity consultant will advise cannabis regulators on whether to conduct a disparity study and on working with minority-owned businesses.

The commission has also asked pre-approved marijuana growers and processors, as well as dispensary applicants, to voluntarily provide gender and racial breakdowns of their owners, investors and employees. Lyon said the commission will also request comprehensive diversity plans from each company.

But the leader of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland said these efforts are too little, too late.

Del. Cheryl D. Glenn (D-Baltimore) is pushing for the commission to rescind the licenses they have awarded and restart the process, this time taking into account the racial makeup of the ownership teams of prospective growers.

 She and fellow African American lawmakers are meeting Dec. 7 to commit to emergency legislation to attempt to diversify the burgeoning and potentially lucrative industry.

By Fenit Nirappil

Source: The Washington Post