Maryland Still Struggling to Find Footing in Medical Marijuana Landscape

Though Maryland legalized medical marijuana in 2014, diversity concerns in the licensing process have drastically slowed the implementation of dispensaries throughout the state.

Maryland has enjoyed a long relationship with cannabis — one of the oldest in American history, in fact. Maryland was one of three states, along with Virginia and Pennsylvania, to allow hemp to be utilized as currency after the Virginia Assembly ruled in 1619 to require all farmers to grow the versatile crop.

Despite such early adoption, the state’s had a checkered past with the plant ever since colonial times.

Marijuana.com covered the diversity dilemma facing Maryland lawmakers last summer when the initial round of licenses were granted.

Maryland’s population is nearly one-third African-American, the highest concentration among states with legalized cannabis. Many are frustrated with the lack of minority leadership within the companies granted preliminary licenses in Maryland. It’s also worth noting that very few of the companies have female leadership, which is relatively uncommon in the marijuana industry; women hold roughly 36% of the executive roles in cannabis-focused companies. Outraged lawmakers and prospective business owners have spoken up, calling for a review of the selection process in hopes of increased minority representation.

“We are not going to see this industry flourish in the state of Maryland with no minority participation,” warned Del. Cheryl D. Glenn, a Baltimore Democrat who is also chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus. Cheryl Glenn has been instrumental in pushing marijuana legalization through for Maryland patients in need but now must weigh the options available, including filing an injunction to hit the pause button on the selection process altogether.

The new laws that went into effect in 2014 stated that the selection process should “actively seek to achieve” racial diversity among the groups granted licenses. However, no additional weight was given to minority-submitted applications after Maryland’s Attorney General’s office wrote a letter condemning the practice as unconstitutional.

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This graph highlights some of the issues marijuana activists took with initial round of license holders. Marijuana cultivation data courtesy of the Washington Post

This past May, a Baltimore Circuit Judge put a stop to the license selection process until a decision-making process more representative of the state’s demographics was devised. Judge Barry Williams called the initial distribution of 15 preliminary licenses “potentially arbitrary and capricious and possibly unconstitutional.”
It wasn’t until this summer that Maryland’s first legal crops started taking root, and there is still only one licensed dispensary open (in Frederick, MD) even though “13,000 patients have signed up to be able to purchase marijuana, and 428 health-care providers have registered to certify the patient’s need for the drug,” according to the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission.

As Maryland’s medical marijuana program gained footing, one of the country’s largest institutions of higher learning was set to get involved before being scared off by the threat of federal interference. After announcing their School of Pharmacy in Baltimore would begin offering courses on cannabis cultivation, patient safety, state marijuana policy, and more, the University of Maryland reversed the decision before classes started. After discussing the matter with the state’s attorney general, the university credited the cancellation to concerns over legal ramifications, saying that the course offerings were “suspended” for the time being.

“Regarding medical cannabis, even though Maryland and many other states have approved it, it’s still illegal under U.S. law,” said Alex Likowski, a spokesman for the University of Maryland.

What looked like a major opportunity for Maryland to step out into the forefront of medical marijuana education in the United States now reflects more on the fragile state of affairs between state and federal cannabis legislature. It will be interesting to see how Maryland lawmakers navigate the landscape in the near future as surrounding states in the northeast move ever closer to legalization.

Image courtesy of Nicolas Raymond



 

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