Former Baltimore Ravens tackle Eugene Monroe, center, joins entrepreneur Andy Grossman, right, for the ribbon cutting at the RISE Silver Spring medical marijuana dispensary in Silver Spring, Md. (Michael Robinson Chavez, The Washington Post)

Maryland House wants to add medical marijuana licenses to boost minority cannabis businesses

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The number of licenses for medical marijuana growers in Maryland would rise from 15 to 20 to increase minority business ownership in companies under a measure passed Thursday by the House of Delegates.

The measure, approved on a vote of 121-16, now goes to the Senate. None of the companies licensed so far to grow marijuana in Maryland has a black owner, even though about one-third of the state’s population is black. The five new licenses would need to be awarded to minority- or women-owned businesses.

“The goal is to have diversity,” said Del. Cheryl Glenn, a Baltimore Democrat who is sponsoring the measure. “One-third of the population of the state of Maryland is African-American, and it is the African-American population that has been for generations disproportionately impacted by marijuana laws, so obviously we want to get those new licenses in the hands, to the degree that we can, of African-American-owned companies.”

The measure also would raise the number of allowable marijuana processors from 15 to 25. Of those 10 extra licenses, seven would need to go to minority-owned companies, Glenn said.

In January, a study conducted for the state found that data on discrimination in Maryland’s overall economy provides “a strong basis in evidence” to support helping businesses owned by women and minorities in industries relevant to the state’s new medical marijuana industry.

Last year, a measure to add licenses failed to pass in the closing minutes of the legislative session. Glenn, who is the chair of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, said she has been working with the Senate since the session ended last year in April to work out a bill both chambers could support.

“We will not have a repeat,” Glenn said, when asked about the bill’s failure last year. “Trust me. You can take that to the bank.”

Maryland’s long-stalled medical marijuana program got off the ground in December, when some dispensaries began selling marijuana in the state. Companies have shown a strong interest in Maryland, because the market is expected to be lucrative. That’s because the law will allow wide patient access. Nurse practitioners, dentists, podiatrists and nurse midwives can recommend its use, as well as doctors.