Bad Weed Outcomes

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As noted earlier in the week, Monday was the day initial awards of medical marijuana growing and processing licenses were awarded and boy howdy, that was some skunky weed.

Out of 30 licenses awarded, one – a processing license – was awarded to a company from Montgomery County, with over a million residents. By comparison, Dorchester County (population 32,618) got four.

One of the licenses was awarded to a company led by a big Larry Hogan political contributor. All together now: “elections have consequences!”

And the company affiliated with Delegate Dan Morhaim, who (apparently legally) didn’t disclose his affiliation until the past few weeks, was awarded licenses to grow and process marijuana. 

More appallingly, not one company led by a minority person received a growers license. 

Maryland set up its legal medical marijuana industry with hopes of racial diversity and equity in spreading profits, but none of the 15 companies cleared this week for potentially lucrative growing licenses are led by African Americans.

Some lawmakers and minority-owned prospective marijuana businesses say this is unacceptable in a state where nearly a third of the population is black, the most of any state with a comprehensive legal pot industry. They say the lack of diversity is emblematic of how across the country African Americans are disproportionately locked up when marijuana use is criminalized, and are shut out of the profits when drug sales are legalized.

“We are not going to see this industry flourish in the state of Maryland with no minority participation,” said Del. Cheryl D. Glenn (D-Baltimore), chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus.

Glenn was a key player in the legalization battle, and the commission that awards medical marijuana business licenses and oversees the industry is named after her mother, Natalie LaPrade, who died of cancer.

She is considering filing a legal injunction to halt the licensing process and is mulling other options such as pushing the commission to award additional licenses to minority-owned companies.

Apparently, the marijuana commission didn’t award points for minority applicants because the Attorney General’s office warned the commission not to. Brian Frosh, remember, is a Democrat. Not that 

The law legalizing medical marijuana says regulators should “actively seek to achieve” racial and ethnic diversity in the industry. But the commission did not provide extra weight to applications submitted by minority-owned businesses because of a letter from the attorney general’s office suggesting preferences would be unconstitutional without a history of racial disparities in marijuana licensing to justify the move.

Um, duh, hello, there’s no “history of marijuana licensing” to fall back on here, just, y’know, hundreds of years of slow very followed by 150 years of Jim Crow, mass incarceration and ongoing discrimination of all kinds. I mean, really, WTF? This is some specious legal analysis right here.

And as far as I know, federal contracting law still provides for at least some actual set asides as well as other support and promotion of minority applicants. This MD law has no set asides, simply an admonition to seek racial balance, which wasn’t done. So why would actually following the letter of this law be unconstitutional?

I think Cheryl Glenn is right on the money. This process reeks of crony insiderism and racial discrimination. 30% of Maryland residents are black. Less than a tenth that proportion got licenses. That’s not a process that complies with either the letter or the spirit of the Maryland law creating the medical marijuana industry. We can and should do better.

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