Company Denied Weed-Growing Permit in Maryland Sues to Block State from Granting 15 Licenses

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An Annapolis-based medical marijuana company has asked a judge to stop Maryland’s cannabis commission from issuing final licenses to pre-approved growers, which would be the next step in getting Maryland’s slow-rolling medical cannabis program up and running.

According to a copy of the filing obtained by Baltimore Fishbowl, Alternative Medicine Maryland filed an emergency motion yesterday asking a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge to grant a restraining order against the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission. If the judge agrees, the commission would be barred from issuing final licenses to its 15 preliminary picks for grower’s licenses.

The lawsuit asks the court to consider whether the commission followed the 2013 law that established Maryland’s medical marijuana program – specifically, if its members considered diversity when picking preliminary licensees, as the legislation requires. The filing argues the commission failed to do so, and accuses its members of “illegal, arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable actions, omissions and patent missteps” during implementation.

Alternative Medicine Maryland, which is “more than 80% African-American owned,” according to its filing, was denied a preliminary license to grow cannabis in Maryland last year. The company later sued, alleging racial discrimination. Court records show the case is still active.

In the motion filed yesterday, lawyers say an attorney representing the state admitted during an April discovery deposition hearing that commission members “did not use racial or ethnic diversity as a selection criterion in considering preapproved applicants.”

A phone line for Alternative Medicine Maryland with an upstate New York area code redirected to an attendant for commercial real estate firm Nidus Development. The attendant said no company staff wished to speak about the lawsuit.

At present, none of the 15 growers and 15 processors picked by the commission to receive licenses are minority-owned firms, though 35 percent of the more than 100 pre-licensed dispensaries are minority-owned, according to commission data.

The Maryland Wholesale Medical Cannabis Trade Association, which represents all but two of those pre-licensed growers and processors, condemning the legal move by Alternative Medicine Maryland as “frivolous.”

Jake Van Wingerden, chairman of the trade group, said in a statement that the firm “fail[ed] to receive a medical cannabis license in its home state of New York,” and that independent experts in both states had decided the company “is simply not qualified to deliver high-quality medical cannabis to patients.”

“Our members have worked in good faith and have made significant investments in their business operations to deliver medical cannabis to Maryland patients as quickly as possible,” Wingerden said. “The State of Maryland should not let a failed out-of-state company cause further delays in its medical cannabis program. Thousands of Maryland patients, including children, have waited long enough for this important medicine.”

The Legislative Black Caucus, led by Baltimore City Del. Cheryl Glenn, has raised similar concerns about the lack of minority representation among pre-licensed growers and processors.

Glenn and others have repeatedly asked Gov. Larry Hogan to call a special General Assembly session to reconsider a bill that very nearly passed in the General Assembly this year. The proposal would have required the cannabis commission to grant preliminary licenses to five more minority-run growers or processors, among other changes.

Gov. Hogan hasn’t answered that call from legislators, but he did direct his Office of Minority Affairs to study the matter.

Asked to respond to Alternative Medicine Maryland’s filing, a Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission spokeswoman said the regulatory body “can’t comment on pending litigation.”

Wingerden said in his statement that the commission is expected to begin voting on final licenses “as soon as tomorrow.”

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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