Discrimination in Maryland’s broader business climate would justify giving minorities and women-owned businesses preferences for entering the state-regulated medical marijuana market.
The long-awaited report was ordered by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Wednesday. It gives lawmakers the justification to pass legislation to help more minorities break into the industry. Pending legislation would set aside five new marijuana cultivation licenses for minority-owned businesses. In addition, it would put a pause on any other new licenses for as long as a decade.
None of the 14 companies licensed to grow cannabis for medical purposes in Maryland’s are led by black executives. Infuriated lawmakers say it’s unfair that African Americans have been disproportionately locked up on marijuana charges. In contrast to the overall populations who are getting opportunities to profit from the legal industry.
Diversity in Minorities
In 2014, the law legalizing medical marijuana called for regulators to seek diversity in licensing growers. However, the Maryland Medical Marijuana Commission did not consider race or ethnicity. This was after receiving legal advice that said it would be illegal to do so without evidence of disparities.
After a political brawl ensued, lawmakers failed last year to reach a compromise on overhauling the medical marijuana industry. For that reason, Hogan ordered a disparity study.
The consultant, economist Jon Wainwright, didn’t specifically examine Maryland’s medical marijuana companies or the application process. Instead, he examined an earlier study finding widespread disparities in business opportunities for minorities. He concluded that it was.
“Absent such affirmative remedial efforts by the State, I would expect to see evidence in the relevant markets in which the medical cannabis licensees will operate that is consistent with the continued presence of business discrimination,” Wainwright wrote.
But he cautioned that he is not a lawyer. In addition, he could not say which race-conscious measures to take to expand the medical marijuana market.
Medical marijuana went on sale in December at a limited number of dispensaries after years of delays. Supply is low, prices are high and most growers are still working to get their product ready for market.