Maryland’s Marijuana Industry Continues Its Fight For Legitimacy

Despite legalizing medical cannabis in 2013, Maryland growers still have a long road ahead for legitimacy. At the time, the law stipulated that the drug had to be dispensed by academic institutions. In return, none partook. Eventually, the program was reworked to open the door for private companies. Nevertheless, Maryland’s Cannabis Commission has hit multiple roadblocks sending the ultimate enactment of such laws to a grinding halt.

Last year, the commission stirred controversy when they gave more credence to two firms in hopes of achieving geographic diversity. In doing so, the commission neglected racial diversity and this set off a heated debate and ultimately a lawsuit from a primarily African American owned grower. State lawmakers worked to solve the problem during the General Assembly session, which ended in April. Two bills were put together. One intended to favor minority-owned businesses. The other would have granted two licenses, while simultaneously granting licenses to the companies stricken from the list for geographic reasons.Ultimately, the legislation fell through on the final day of the General Assembly session. The Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland has put pressure on the Assembly to initiate a special session for this purpose, but their pleas have fallen on deaf ears. A lawsuit filed by Alternative Medicine Maryland, which has 84-percent African American ownership, temporarily prevented the Commission from awarding licenses to those that had applied. Alternative Medicine Maryland argued that the Cannabis Commission neglected a state law requiring racial diversity to be considered when handing out preliminary licenses.

On Friday, Maryland’s top court issued a ruling allowing the commission to issue the remaining licenses even as the legal proceedings continue. The Maryland Wholesale Medical Cannabis Trade Association was satisfied with the ruling. However, John Pica, who represents Alternative Medicine Maryland insists the court’s ruling was yet another “round in a championship fight.” Pica sincerely believes his client has a good chance of winning the case. He suggests growing companies and the commission moving forward is taking a risk, since Pica and his client believe the licenses were awarded unlawfully.

The Maryland Wholesale Medical Cannabis Trade Association is made up of local growers. They argued that as a whole they had invested more than $200 million into their businesses. Therefore, these growers felt they had a right to be heard in the ongoing lawsuit. Simultaneously, they complained that further disruption would only delay the patient’s ability to obtain the drug they need. Ultimately, the court ruled that companies without a final license should not be allowed to intervene. Before the court can make a ruling on the case involving Alternative Medicine Maryland, the Court of Appeals will first need to decide whether or not these companies can be involved.

To date, only a single company of the 15 selected has been granted a final license. That firm, ForwardGro, is based out of Anne Arundel County. The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission awarded the company with the license in August of 2016. Of those 15 companies, African Americans lead not one.

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