Photo by Laurie Avocado, via Wikimedia Commons

A coalition of black Maryland legislators seeks to overhaul the state’s medical cannabis commission by giving it more regulatory power and a stronger focus on diversity. This week, the leader of that coalition wants the public’s help.

Last year, several hopeful marijuana firms sued the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, alleging its members didn’t pick a diverse enough array of firms for licenses to grow, process and dispense medical marijuana. The Maryland Black Legislative Caucus, a coalition of the state’s African-American lawmakers, backed their argument.

This General Assembly session, they took it a step further by introducing two measures to change its membership and allow more growers to receive licenses and, most significantly, repeal parts of the law that created it and instead create a new cannabis-focused division in the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The second proposal is called the Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Cannabis Commission Reform Act.

Del. Cheryl Glenn of Baltimore City today sent out an email calling upon those who want more minority representation in Maryland’s future medical pot industry to come testify at House of Delegates and Senate hearings in Annapolis later this week. (Baltimore City Sen. Joan Carter Conway, has sponsored an identical measure in the Senate.)

“In the words of the Vice Chairman of the Black Caucus, Del. Darryl Barnes, ‘This whole thing is jacked up,’” wrote Glenn, who is chair of the caucus. “Before this problem is exacerbated, the Black Caucus is taking action to balance the playing fields for minorities. We cannot allow this multi-billion dollar industry to go without minority participation.”

A spokesperson for the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission hasn’t yet returned a request for comment on Glenn’s email.

Last year, Alternative Medicine Maryland sued the commission in Baltimore Circuit Court, arguing its members ignored racial diversity when picking 15 companies apiece for preliminary licenses to grow and process cannabis last summer. The company was the third to sue; two others filed a joint suit alleging the commission skipped over their applications for lower-ranked companies for purposes of geographic diversity.

The commission has taken these allegations seriously, hiring a diversity consultant to explore what they could do better during the pre-licensing process to better reflect the diversity of the state. They’ve also published data showing the racial and minority makeup of of selected companies’ owners and workers. The data indicate 35 percent of the pre-licensed businesses are minority-owned, 15 percent of them by African-Americans, and that 60 of their employees are racial or ethnic minorities.

But Glenn and her colleagues are arguing the system itself is flawed and needs to be restructured. The reform act would create a new Medical Cannabis Division in the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene with regulatory powers that they say the commission doesn’t currently have.

“The preliminary results in licensing showed a blatant inequality in gender, race, and geography, a disparity that may have been avoided had the Commission been established to be a regulatory agency reflective of the population they serve,” Glenn wrote in her email.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee will hear testimony for Sen. Conway’s bill this Thursday, March 2, at 1 p.m. on the second floor of the Miller Senate Office Building. The House Health and Government Operations Committee will hear testimony for Del. Glenn’s version of the bill on Friday, March 3, at 1 p.m. in House Office Building room 241.

“I urge you to come down to Annapolis and share your testimony,” Glenn wrote. “We have the opportunity to ensure the opportunity for minorities to build generational wealth through the Medical Cannabis industry.”

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...