A budtender holds medical marijuana buds at a California dispensary in August 2015. (Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press file)

Maryland gov revamps embattled agency that regulates medical marijuana

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday overhauled the state’s medical marijuana regulating agency, appointing 10 new members to the panel, which came under fire for its launch of a medical cannabis program.

The appointees to the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission include a toxicologist, a pharmacist, a county sheriff and a county state’s attorney.

Hogan filled three vacancies on the 16-member panel and replaced six members whose terms had expired, doubling the number of minority commissioners from two to four. John Gontrum, an assistant comptroller in the state comptroller’s office, was reappointed.

“It was time to move in a new direction,” Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said.

The commission has been criticized by state lawmakers, businesses and medical marijuana advocates for struggling to get the medical marijuana program off the ground and for potential missteps in awarding licenses to grow the drug.

Earlier this year, a legislative audit found that the commission skirted state contracting rules and may have overcharged taxpayers when it hired an outside group to review applications to open cannabis businesses.

Del. Cheryl Glenn, D-Baltimore City, president of the state Legislative Black Caucus and a lead sponsor of the state’s medical marijuana legalization bill, said Thursday that the caucus “appreciates any and all efforts” to add minorities to the commission. The caucus is pushing for a special session of the General Assembly, after a bill pushed by the caucus to revamp the cannabis program failed in the final seconds of the regular session.

Glenn also said Hogan should ensure that a study on the racial disparity in the state’s medical marijuana industry, which he ordered in April, is completed as soon as possible.

The legislation would have overhauled the marijuana commission and addressed complaints that minority-owned businesses were passed over for licenses and are not in a position to profit from the nascent industry.

Filling commission vacancies are Charles LoDico, a toxicologist for the state Department of Health and Human Services; Barry Pope, the drug rebate manager and clinical pharmacist for Conduent State Healthcare; and Brian Lopez, a partner at Osprey Property Co.

The new commissioners are: Alvin Davis, a partner at Cumberland Anesthesia and Pain Management Associates; Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler; Frederick County State’s Attorney Charles Smith III; Rachel Rhodes, the horticulture associate for the University of Maryland Extension in Queen Anne’s County; Ehsan Abdeshahian, a doctor specializing in pain and sports medicine; and Scott Welsh, owner of Maryland Flower and Foliage.

The commission will have two African American members, one Hispanic member and one member of Middle Eastern descent, Mayer said.