Cannabis Market Diversification Plan by Maryland Attracts 160 Applications for 14 Licenses

The attempt by Maryland to promote diverse ownership in the medical cannabis industry has led to over 160 applications from firms looking to get one of the 14 new licenses meant to be issued by the state.

Over a year ago after the lawmakers in this state and Governor Larry Hogan passed a law meant to boost the participation of minority groups and women in owning businesses. The medical cannabis commission declared that competition would be fierce for four marijuana growing licenses and 10 licenses for processing cannabis into medical products.

Other than the healthy interest portrayed by companies, the new application process has been marred by a malfunction that the regulators are looking forward to fixing by 31st May.

According to the commissioner, most applicants faced technical problems when making their submissions since the online portal of the state got inundated at previous Friday’s 5.00 p.m. deadline. However, they assured the applicants that technical issues ought not to prevent anybody from getting a reasonable shot at stake in the growing industry that generated sales worth $109 million last year.

Brian Lopez, the commission chairman, said that they had received quality applications for the past few months. He went on to say that the commission has no intentions of penalizing applicants who would have submitted complete packages on time were it not for the system errors.

Lopez clarified that applicants who had submitted their application fees of $2,000 would be notified by Friday if their application packages were properly completed, or if additional information is needed.

Joy Strand, the executive director of the commission, said that the commission would work with all applicants to address the technical issues they could have faced.

Over two years ago, the commission faced lawsuits and significant criticisms regarding how it had selected the first 15 cannabis growers. The black legislative caucus of the state was outraged that no African American-owned companies won the preliminary growing licenses.

A disparity study commissioned by the state confirmed that women and minorities had been shut out of the cannabis industry. This analysis offered legal support required for implementing gender and race-based measures to remediate discrimination.

With the study complete, the general assembly in 2018 passed legislation to expand the growth and operations of marijuana, to try giving minorities a role of ownership.

Now, Lopez and his commission staff have spent a lot in the past one year traveling the state to raise awareness of new licenses within the minority business community at community centers and seminars among other forums.

 Del. Cheryl Glenn, a Democrat who has for years been involved in coming up with regulations in the cannabis industry, said that she has hope that the efforts of the state will lead to a more diverse industry.

Glen praised the Attorney General’s office, the commission and black caucus for coming up with a process that adds more women and minority-owned companies to the industry that made close to $50 million in sales for the first three months this year. This amount is four times than what was recorded in a similar period in 2018 when not too many dispensaries were open.

Nevertheless, not everybody is pleased with this process. In March, Curio Wellness, a cannabis grower in Baltimore County started by Michael Bronfein (a Democrat supporter), sued the commission over the process. He claimed that the state was jeopardizing the $10 million of the company by violating regulations, which had originally promised a limited number of licenses.

By last month, there were 75 retail stores (dispensaries), 16 processors, and 15 licensed growers across Maryland. An additional two processors, three growers, and 32 dispensaries are in the preapproval stage.

When technical issues are solved, an independent panel of experts set up by the commission will review applications through July 26. The evaluation will be based on multiple criteria.

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