After public backlash, Curio Wellness drops lawsuit to halt new round of growing licenses

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Facing an outpouring of criticism from patients, dispensaries, fellow growers and state regulators, as well as threatened product boycotts, Curio Wellness has dropped its lawsuit against the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission that attempted to stop a new round of grower applications in court.

Owner and CEO Michael Bronfein released a letter today saying he’s decided to withdraw his company’s complaint filed Monday in Baltimore City Circuit Court. Curio had sued state regulators over their plans to add up to four new cannabis growers to an existing roster of 14 companies, arguing the commission hadn’t followed its own rules saying it must first prove a demand for additional pot supply before creating more producer licenses.

“As the president and CEO of Curio, I have a fiduciary responsibility to protect the interests of the people we employ and our investors,” he wrote in a letter, which can be read in full here. “But over the last several days I have heard from my team that they are hearing from friends and family that they work for a company that doesn’t want to see economic benefits extended to all corners of our diverse state.

“I have seen the concerns from our customers on social media about racial insensitivity. I have seen comments and accusations that in no way reflect the values of this company and are not an accurate depiction of the hardworking people of all races and ethnicities I work with every day. These are concerns to which I cannot, and will not, turn a blind eye.”

Bronfein was referring to the backlash from patients and peer businesses that proclaimed Curio was trying to block an intentional effort by the state to bring some minority-owned producers into the mix. Three years ago, when the state completed its blind application process, none of the 15 chosen licensees turned out to be black-owned.

Lawmakers and Gov. Larry Hogan in 2018 sought to remedy this by enacting a law to add more cannabis growers and processors, and create a new application that factors race and gender into the equation for choosing licensees.

While Curio’s lawsuit argued its objection was about procedures–not about wanting to stifle the state’s attempts to boost diversity–growers and patients certainly didn’t see it that way. Some also alleged the company was merely seeking to defend its share of the lucrative market.

“The actions of a single grower does not reflect the desire of the majority of companies in the industry to honor HB2 and support achieving a more inclusive cannabis industry in Maryland,” Mackie Barch, chair of the Maryland Wholesale Medical Cannabis Trade Association said in a statement Wednesday.

The Maryland Patient Rights Association trade group and others, including patients on social media, called for a boycott of Curio products until the filing was dropped.

Patients had planned to stage a sit-in protest at Curio’s headquarters on York Road in Lutherville on Saturday at noon.

Joie Leigh, a Maryland medical cannabis patient and advocate who helped organize the planned demonstration, told Baltimore Fishbowl Friday that “patients were both shocked and dismayed by the news of this lawsuit,” but are “humbled” by the response to their opposition.

A contingent is still planning to show up at the grower-processor-dispensary’s storefront in Lutherville on Saturday, she said. It’ll be a “more of a town hall,” however, that “will give the owners an opportunity to address the public directly,” she said.

Though Curio’s legal battle didn’t last long anyway, state cannabis regulators had already assured they would proceed with the new round of applications that went live on Monday.

“It is imperative for the new licensees to enter this industry as soon as possible,” said MMCC Chairman Brian Lopez, who was named as a defendant in the lawsuit. (Baltimore Fishbowl has reached out to the commission for comment on the dropped lawsuit.)

In addition to four new grower spots, the commission is also taking up applications for up to 10 new processor licenses. The application process is open through May 24, and regulators will evaluate submissions thereafter until July 24, according to the MMCC’s published timeline.

Ethan McLeod
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