Jars of marijuana on display. (John Leyba, Denver Post file)

Maryland House approves boost to minority-owned medical marijuana businesses

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland would allow five more licenses each to grow and process medical marijuana in the state under a measure approved Tuesday by the House of Delegates.

The bill, which was passed on a 90-45 vote, is aimed at boosting minority-owned business participation in the state’s developing industry after a disparity study. The vote sends the measure to the Senate, which is considering a separate bill.

Del. Cheryl Glenn, the chair of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland and House bill’s sponsor, has been critical of a state commission’s decision last year to name 15 finalists each to grow and process marijuana that lack minority ownership, even though the state’s law notes racial diversity should be considered.

“Passing this bill will show the country that this is not an issue that we’re going lock African Americans and other minorities from participating in this business venture,” Glenn said before the House vote. “Less than 1 percent of the licenses held in the entire country are held by African Americans and other minorities. I’m very proud at the state of Maryland that we are passing this legislation. Nothing is perfect, but this is really moving us along the path of having a fair system in the state of Maryland.”

A state commission has named 15 finalists to be licensed to be growers and 15 finalists to processors — the most allowed under the current law. No final decisions on licenses have been made yet. The commission also has named finalists for 102 marijuana dispensaries. Some companies that were not named as finalists are suing the state over the licensing process.

The Senate bill would also add to the number of licenses allowed under the law. It differs from the House bill by allowing two companies that were bumped out of the top 15 selected to grow marijuana to be licensed. Those two companies are suing the state.

Maryland first decided to allow medical marijuana in 2013, but only academic centers were permitted to grow and dispense the drug. The effort stalled, however, because it required academic medical centers to run the programs, and none stepped forward. The law was later revised, but further delays have resulted from intense interest in a market that stands to be lucrative, largely due to the fact that the law will allow wide patient access.