ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Medical marijuana will be one of the main topics heading into the Maryland General Assembly when legislators reconvene in less than four months.
After a last-ditch effort failed to approve legislation in this year’s session, Delegate Cheryl Glenn of Baltimore said Saturday emergency legislation will be presented in January to make sure it happens.
“The leadership of the General Assembly has put in writing to pass an emergency bill in the very beginning of session,” she said during an all-day public hearing in the Department of Legislative Services building in Annapolis. “This is going to be moving forward.”
Glenn, who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, led the meeting to hear testimony on medical cannabis, housing and other subjects to prepare and possibly incorporate responses into legislation for the annual four-month legislative session.
Medical cannabis consumed part of the meeting for more than 90 minutes which included testimony from consultants, supporters and state officials.
The Black caucus, comprised of 50 members and about 40 percent of the Democratic slate in Annapolis, expressed displeasure when medical cannabis failed to pass on the last day of this year’s session April 10.
House and Senate leaders, including House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, plan to schedule a joint hearing on the first Monday of session on Jan. 16, Glenn said.
However, if the plan stalls and final paperwork isn’t on the governor’s desk to sign by the end of January, the Black caucus may not work with leadership at all.
“We’re not going to go along to get along,” said Delegate Balil Ali of Baltimore.
Brian P. Lopez, who Gov. Larry Hogan appointed in July to serve as the new chairman of the state’s Medical Cannabis Commission, was peppered with questions concerning the board, including its makeup. Of the 15 commissioners, Lopez said the governor appointed 10 new people. However, he said the board has only two Blacks, one Latino, an Iranian and four women.
So far, he said more than 12,000 patients and at least 500 doctors are registered for the medical marijuana program.
When Delegate Darryl Barnes (D-District 25) of Upper Marlboro asked where are the patients and doctors located, Lopez said throughout the state.
However, Lopez said some doctors and physicians aren’t listed publicly “for a variety of reasons.”
Although medical and recreational marijuana can be approved by the states, the business remains illegal by the federal government. In addition, it’s a cash business due to lack of support from banks and other financial institutions.
Legislators grilled state officials on when a disparity study would be completed that would insure minority and women-owned businesses receive a fair shot in the application process. Out of the 15 applicants already approved for preliminary licenses to grow, dispense and process the marijuana, none are African-Americans.
Jimmy Rhee, special secretary for the governor’s office of small, minority and women and business affairs, didn’t give a definitive answer on when the study would be finished.
“This is not a quick analysis. This is a detailed dive into the business and demographic landscape of our state,” Rhee said. “We have to look at similar industries that might reflect what [the] medical cannabis industry might look like. We want to make sure that we have the most sound, thorough and legally defensible product [for the study].”
Because of the commission’s history, lack of diversity and the $125,000 licensure fees from each of the 15 approved applicants, Ali doesn’t have faith it in.
“If I’m paying money into a fee, then pretty much I’m going to do what the people are paying me to do and get the outcome I am looking for,” he said.
Patrick Jameson, executive director of the commission named after Glenn’s mother, Natalie M. LaPrade, immediately responded to Ali.
“I would like to give you confidence that we are independent agency,” Jameson said. “We’re setting up a world class, regulatory body and outside influences are not a factor in the job that the commission has to do to regulate this industry.”