Photo via Wikimedia Commons/Laurie Avocado CC BY 2.0

A Baltimore judge yesterday stopped the state from continuing to grant full licenses to cannabis growers, siding with an African-American-owned company that’s alleging discrimination by Maryland’s cannabis commission.

Judge Barry Williams granted a temporary restraining order against the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission that temporarily halts its ability to issue Stage 2 growing licenses, court records show. Ten days earlier, Alternative Medicine Maryland, an Annapolis-based aspiring cannabis grower that was denied pre-approval last summer, called for the court to shut the licensing process down, arguing the commission’s 16 members didn’t comply with legal requirements to consider racial diversity when picking pre-licensed growers and processors.

The state has already awarded a grower’s license to Stevensville-based ForwardGro. The company’s license is still in effect, though its leaders will to have defend their ability to keep growing weed before Judge Williams in court next week.

The firm hasn’t responded to an email requesting comment on the ruling or their plans.

John Pica, one of the attorneys representing Alternative Medicine Maryland, said on a phone call that the judge’s decision to grant the injunction “confirms what we’ve believed the whole time. We simply want the commission to follow the law, period.”

The commission announced its preliminary picks for 15 grower’s licenses and 15 processor’s licenses last summer. The Black Legislative Caucus was angered to learn that none of the 23 companies – some of which received pre-approval for both categories – were minority-owned.

The law signed by former Gov. Martin O’Malley in 2013 that laid the framework for Maryland’s medical marijuana program pushed for minority participation in the industry. Specifically, it said the commission must “actively seek to achieve racial, ethnic and geographic diversity” when handing out licenses.

Black legislators, led by Baltimore Del. Cheryl Glenn, pushed for licensing reform this past session, even arguing Maryland should scrap its four-year-old program and start anew. Their goal, they’ve stated, is to make sure the state’s many black residents aren’t shut out of the burgeoning, lucrative industry.

In addition to Alternative Medicine Maryland’s allegations of racial discrimination, two other companies have sued, arguing they were denied pre-approval to grow pot for geographic reasons. That suit is also still pending.

In an emailed statement, cannabis commission Chairman Paul Davies said, “The Commission will comply with this Temporary Restraining Order, which only affects medical cannabis Grower licenses.”

The commission has argued against allegations of discrimination, saying its picks were lawful and based on the blind ranking process. The regulatory body has also made its argument with data, publishing figures on its website indicating just over a third of the state’s 102 pre-approved dispensaries are minority-owned.

The Maryland Wholesale Medical Cannabis Trade Association, which represents nearly all of the pre-approved growers and processors, condemned Judge Williams’ decision.

“Maryland’s patients and families have waited nearly four years for access to these important medicines,” said its chairman, Jake Van Wingerden. “We are hopeful that the Circuit Court will rule against Alternative Medicine Maryland’s (AMM) frivolous legal filing when all the evidence is heard on June 2,” the next scheduled hearing in the case.

Van Wingerden also criticized the company’s history, noting its operators were also denied a license to grow cannabis in New York. He called for Alternative Medicine Maryland to drop its suit “and let the sick and hurting residents of Maryland receive the medicine they have been waiting for.”

As of last Friday, more than 4,300 patients and caregivers around Maryland had successfully registered to receive medical cannabis.

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Ethan McLeod

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...