(Vince Chandler, The Denver Post)

Maryland legislative leaders in stand-off over special session on medical marijuana

Advocates who want to diversify and expand Maryland’s medical marijuana industry are calling on the General Assembly to hold a one-day special session to get the job done.

But the top politicians in Annapolis are again at odds on the issue, imperiling the chances for a deal.

Democratic lawmakers agree that the state should approve five new minority growers to join the 15 mostly white-owned companies already pre-approved to open cultivation sites.

But House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert, are again in a stand-off over whether legislation considered in a special session should also steer licenses to two applicants, who are suing the state after they were denied licenses in the name of geographic diversity.

Miller says giving those companies licenses is crucial to ending lawsuits and allowing the long-delayed program to proceed. Busch says it’s inappropriate for the state to help specific businesses.

Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has shown little desire to intervene.

“This is between the president and speaker, and it appears they are moving even further apart,” said Hogan spokeswoman Shareese N. Churchill.

Under the Maryland constitution, the governor can unilaterally call a special session of the General Assembly to address unfinished or emergency business. The legislature can also convene a special session if the majorities of both chambers agree.

The House on Monday nearly agreed to compromise legislation that included licenses for the companies suing the state, but ran out of the time before its midnight deadline.

With the time pressure gone, Busch is insisting that legislation include no licenses to the companies embroiled in the lawsuit: GTI Maryland (an off-shoot of an Illinois marijuana grower) and Maryland Cultivation and Processing (an off-shoot of a Washington, D.C. grower).

The speaker invoked the ethics scandals that plagued his chamber this year – including three former delegates charged with taking bribes and a public reprimand of the legislature’s biggest champion for medical marijuana who did not fully disclose his ties to the industry -in his opposition to the legislature awarding licenses.

“Given the cloud that has hovered over this entire program and the 2017 legislative session, we must be entirely transparent and give the public confidence in the decisions that we make,” said Busch in a statement. “I do not believe it is the job of the General Assembly to decide what applicants are awarded licenses.”

But Miller says the House was on the verge of approving the additional two licenses, and should stand by that position.

“I believe the arbitrary actions of the existing Cannabis Commission leading to the current lawsuits could threaten the advancement of the program and further delay the availability of this important treatment option for patients,” said Miller in a statement.

Leaders of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland are siding with Miller, and made their case alongside black business leaders and representatives of GTI at a Wednesday press conference in front of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History & Culture in Baltimore.