Maryland’s medical marijuana program has been so sluggish to take flight, so dazed in setting rules for applicants and so muddled in evaluating them that one might fairly wonder if the entire undertaking were conducted under the influence.
Three years after it was approved, the state’s legal pot program is still earthbound. While licenses are scheduled at last to be awarded to grow, process and dispense cannabis this month, few of the nearly 30 states that have legalized the drug for medical purposes have been so slow to get their programs up and running.
It is not only the listless pace but also the signs of self-dealing and shady connections that have given the project a scent of mismanagement and corruption. The problems began with a lawmaker, Del. Dan Morhaim, D-Baltimore County, who pressed for changes in the legislation legalizing marijuana but never publicly disclosed that he was also a paid consultant for a concern that was a prospective dispensary.
Now we learn, thanks to reporting by The Washington Post, that a web of opaque connections bound some bidders for potentially lucrative cannabis licenses with the evaluators who were hired to assess their applications. Somehow, no one picked up on those apparent conflicts of interest in the bidding process – neither the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission nor the outfit at Towson University with which it contracted to judge bidders, the Regional Economic Studies Institute.
That’s a conspicuous oversight. Whether it is justified to suspect that cozy connections may have had a hand in determining winners and losers, the failure to ferret out evaluators with business or personal connections to license applicants naturally gives rise to such suspicions, thereby subverting faith in the process and the program.
The problems include an evaluator, Julia Germaine, whose husband and business partner, Nial DeMena, submitted applications to grow, process and dispense medical marijuana in Maryland in 2015, along with a business partner named Ted Rebholz. The firm was given preliminary approval last year. DeMena now tells The Post he is no longer involved in the business, and husband and wife both insist they weren’t aware of the other’s role in Maryland. If true, that bespeaks obliviousness to the spirit of disclosure rules.
On top of incomplete disclosures by several evaluators, the selection process has been marred by lawsuits alleging a failure to take into account racial diversity in awarding licenses and alleging that favoritism granted some bidders on the basis of geographical diversity even as higher-ranked applicants were shown the door.
In anointing successful bidders, states may in effect be bestowing considerable riches; medical marijuana has been highly profitable in a number of states. Any hint that the selection is somehow unfair, or tainted by personal connections, subverts faith in the process and in government.
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan stepped in to clean house at the state Cannabis Commission, appointing 10 new members in response to concerns about shoddy oversight. Any further revelations could derail the whole procedure; here’s hoping it doesn’t come to that.