After the General Assembly opted this session not to pass black lawmakers’ proposed mandates for more minority representation in Maryland’s medical cannabis industry, Gov. Larry Hogan today advanced their effort, directing his administration to conduct a “disparity study” of the regulated sector.

A letter sent by Hogan today to the Governor’s Office of Minority Affairs directs its leader, Special Secretary of Minority Affairs Jimmy Rhee, to initiate a study “as expeditiously as possible in order to ensure diversity in Maryland’s medical cannabis industry.”

Members of the Black Legislative Caucus, led by Baltimore City Del. Cheryl Glenn, have criticized the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission’s picks for pre-licensed growers and processors since they were announced last summer, arguing the 15 picks for each category didn’t fairly represent Maryland’s minority population.

Glenn and others proposed a series of bills during the 2017 General Assembly session calling for reform in the licensing process to make it more inclusive. One measure would have required the Maryland Medical Marijuana Commission, the industry’s appointed regulatory body, to conduct more outreach to minority and female entrepreneurs and create partnerships to boost their participation.

Another bill proposed by Glenn that made headway in both the House of Delegates and Senate, but died on the final day of the session, would have assigned five more licenses to minority-owned weed firms and two more for companies that sued the state, arguing they were excluded from getting licenses for geographic reasons. Yet another proposal would have required the commission to conduct a disparity study to determine whether minorities were underrepresented.

Since no bill ever made it to his desk, Hogan said in his letter today that the Office of Minority Affairs should initiate the study on its own. “As the issue of promoting diversity is of great importance to me and my administration, your office should begin this process immediately in order to ensure opportunities for minority participation in the industry,” he wrote to Rhee.

The commission has fought such allegations. It published statistics that account for minority representation in not just growers and processors, but also the 102 pre-licensed dispensaries across the state.

According to those figures, shared online about two months ago, 35 percent of owners of all three types of firms are racial or ethnic minorities, and the same is true for 59 percent of all of their employees. Data show 11 of 15 growers, nine of 15 processors and 59 of 102 dispensaries reported their demographic makeup in the voluntary survey.

The commission has also been working with a diversity consultant since the fall to examine whether it could create more avenues for minority participation.

No one answered phones at Del. Glenn’s Annapolis or Baltimore offices.

In a statement on Friday, Commission Chairman Paul Davies said he “welcomes” the governor’s request. “We have already achieved significant minority participation within the industry and will continue striving to maximize it,” he said, adding, “The Commission is looking forward to continuing its work with the Governor’s Office on Minority Affairs to expedite completion of the study and take any necessary steps the study suggests.”

This story has been updated with comment from Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission Chairman Paul Davies.

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...