Photo by Sam Sutch, via Wikimedia Commons

Maryland’s medical marijuana pipeline is set for growth—and hopefully, more equitable racial representation–following the Senate’s passage of a bill Monday that would create 20 new growing or processing licenses and update the business-application process to account for race.

HB 2, proposed by Del. Cheryl Glenn (D-Baltimore), advanced to the governor’s desk after a 40-5 vote from state senators, legislative records show. The Sun first reported the news.

The measure would up the number of growing licenses in Maryland to 22, and the number of processing licenses to 28. The state already has 102 active or pre-approved dispensaries serving as retailers for prescription-carrying patients. Nearly 40 of them are up and running.

As The Sun’s Erin Cox noted, not all 20 of the new growing and processing licenses would be open to competition. Two are reserved for companies that sued the state in 2016, arguing they were passed over for less qualified applicants due to geographic reasons (one of them announced its new pre-approved growing license today. Four of the growing licenses are also reserved for existing processors, so as to streamline the bud supply chain.

Still, the bill’s passage on the final day of the legislative session comes as a win particularly for black lawmakers. One year earlier, their General Assembly colleagues failed on the final day of the 2017 session to enact the Legislative Black Caucus’ proposed fix for the industry’s racial disparity problem.

The new law, if signed by Gov. Larry Hogan, would attempt to balance the lopsided racial makeup of the state’s pool of marijuana growers and processors. The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission issued 15 licenses for each task in 2016, but none of the companies chosen wound up being minority-owned.

Specifically, Glenn’s bill would require the commission to conduct “comprehensive outreach” to hopeful small, minority and female business owners and entrepreneurs through partnerships with historically black colleges and universities, trade groups and others.

It would also utilize a new application process factoring in applicants’ race and gender, and require existing cannabis firms to report back annually to the commission on their ownership’s racial and gender composition.

Glenn could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Other bills to change the state’s relationship with weed remain stuck in limbo as of 3 p.m. Monday. Sen. Bobby Zirkin’s (D-Baltimore County) proposal to increase the threshold for decriminalization from 10 grams to one ounce—meaning the person allegedly carrying said weed would face a fine, rather than jail time—passed the Senate in March, but hasn’t left committee in the House.

A more progressive bill that, if passed, would let voters decide via ballot measure whether to fully legalize, tax and regulate cannabis, has not left committee in either house of the legislature.

The session wraps up at midnight tonight.

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...