May 26, 2017—After Maryland failed to issue any licenses for the production of medical marijuana in their new system to racial minorities, a Baltimore judge put a halt on the licensing of any more processors until a hearing on June 2nd. The temporary restraining order, issued by Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams on Thursday, comes after a lawsuit was filed to force the Maryland Cannabis Commission to issue production licenses to minority businesses.
The Maryland medical marijuana law contained a provision to seek racial diversity in licensing, directing the state to “actively seek to achieve racial, ethnic and geographic diversity when licensing medical cannabis growers.” However, the application process did not inquire about the ethnicity of the applicant, which led to another lawsuit last year surrounding the legality of the process.
One company, ForwardGro, is the only company issued a license thus far. They will be allowed to continue their process and go forward, but no others will be licensed yet.
The commission has argued that the law didn’t actually require racial diversity be included, but of the 15 companies approved for production, none are African-American owned. The Baltimore Sun reports:
Nelson, who represents the commission, argued in court that the law never expressly required racial diversity to be a selection criteria and that the commission satisfied the requirement to seek diversity by broadly advertising the program. She said Alternative Medicine Maryland’s application was evidence the commission successfully reached a diverse pool of candidates.
“What they did was sufficient,” Nelson said.
The Legislative Black Caucus disagrees and has accused the commission of unfairly excluding African-Americans, who make up about a third of Maryland’s population, from the industry.
Black lawmakers and the Caucus have called for Governor Larry Hogan and the legislative officers to recall the General Assembly to address this issue alone, but the governor won’t go that far. However, he did issue an executive order directing the Maryland Office of Minority Affairs to look into the issue.
The executive order said, in part, “As the issue of promoting diversity is of great importance to me and my administration, your office should begin this process immediately in order to ensure opportunities for minority participation in the industry.”