Battle for the soul of Maryland's cannabis economy

Posted on March 30th, 2019 by Global Ganja Report and tagged , , , , , .

leafMaryland is expanding its medical marijuana program and adopting policies that attempt to redress the social ills associated with prohibition and the war on drugs—but is meeting resistance both from the police and from elements of the local cannabis industry.

Maryland has not legalized cannabis, but is now allowing cultivation for the medical market. The initially very limited medical marijuana law adopted in 2013 is now bringing a cannabis industry to the state. And Baltimore has been moving toward  the kind of de facto decrim new being instated in other eastern cities, declining to prosecute for low-level cannabis offenses. However, political obstacles continue to roadblock this progress.

Baltimore plays 'catch and release'
Back in January, Baltimore's top prosecutor, State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that her office would no longer prosecute for cannabis possession— regardless of the quantity or the arrestee's criminal history. The famously progressive Mosby cited the "disproportionate impact that the war on drugs has had on communities of color." She stated flatly: "There is no public safety value in prosecuting marijuana possession."

But Baltimore's police have resisted the change—openly asserting they will continue arresting those caught with more than 10 grams of weed, even if prosecutors will not press the charges. The stalemate has resulted in what urban affairs website CityLab terms a "catch-and-release" situation. Cops continue to arrest for cannabis possession, only to have the arrestees almost immediately freed when prosecutors drop the charges.

"Arresting people for marijuana possession is an infrequently used, but sometimes important, law enforcement tool as we focus on violent crime and violent criminals in Baltimore," a police department spokesperson told CityLab in an e-mailed statement.

Community activists are upset at the absence of a clear policy from the authorities. "The prosecutor and the commissioner, the police department, they need to come together, they need to converge and be on the same page," Walker Gladden, populalry known as "Mr. C," youth coordinator at East Baltimore's Rose Street Community Center told CityLab.

And the intransigence from the city's already scandal-plagued police force is pursuing an aggressive crackdown on gangs and the trade in hard drugs. Federally coordinated raids on "violent fugitives" have nabbed 264 this month, the Baltimore Sun reports, with 140 grams of heroin and 106 grams of cocaine seized. There was no mention of cannabis seized in these raids, but gang crackdowns elsewhere on the East Coast have resulted in cannabis convictions, even if pot isn't what made the dealines at the time of the arrests.

Backlash to equity?
One roadblock on Maryland's march toward cannabis equity was removed March 29, when a medical marijuana company agreed to drop its lawsuit against state authorities, following a vociferous outcry.

"It's simply not true this lawsuit was intended to challenge the effort to improve diversity in our industry," Curio Wellness founder and CEO Michael Bronfein told the Baltimore Sun. "In fact, Curio has always supported this effort and will continue to do so."

The report noted that Bronfein is a prominent donor to the Democratic Party. But certainly the company's suit had been perceived by many as part of a backlash to Maryland's equity policy.

As the Baltimore Sun earlier reported, Curio filed its lawsuit just four days earlier in Baltimore County Circuit Court, charging that the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission was in violation of its own regulations by seeking applications for more growing licenses without completing a supply-and-demand analysis

Regulations governing the state’s medical cannabis industry say the commission may seek to license more marijuana growing companies than the original 15 that were approved “to meet the demand for medical cannabis by qualifying patients in an affordable, accessible, secure and efficient manner.”

Curio stated in the suit that it had spent more than $10 million to build its cultivation business based on regulations that promised a "strictly limited number" of such licenses. To grant more licenses would jeopardize the investments of Curio and 13 other companies already approved to cultivate in the state, the case charged.

But the licensing had been extended to address concerns about racial justice in the state's new cannabis sector. Cheryl Glenn, a member of the Maryland House of Delegates for Baltimore and an advocate for minority participation in the industry, said the state's medical marijuana law always gave the commission the right to award new licenses as needed. She told the Sun that a "disparity study" conducted by the state to assess the industry found that African American firms had been effectively excluded from the program.

Based on the findings of the disparity study, the General Assembly passed compromise legislation last year to expand cultivation licenses to give Black-owned firms a second chance.

The study was carried out by Jon Wainwright of NERA Economic Consulting, who had earlier undertaken an analysis of the state's minority contracting system. He wrote that the findings of the disparity study supported "the use of race- and gender-based measures to remediate discrimination affecting minority- and women-owned businesses in the types of industries relevant to the medical cannabis business."

The study was met with enthusiasm among the Black Caucus in the House of Delegates. "I'm ecstatic Maryland can move forward and be a beacon of light and show it is a serious issue, that everyone should be concerned about having diversity in a multibillion-dollar industry," Del. Glenn told the Sun last January.

The deal was finalized in the statehouse last April.

Glenn of course was vindicated by the dropping of the lawsuit. "No one wants in 2019 to have a trillion dollar industry be controlled by all white men," she told the Sun on March 29. "We have had widespread support."

Cross-post to Cannabis Now 

Image: Jurist


Who's new

  • Baba Israel
  • Karr Young
  • John Veit
  • YosephLeib
  • Peter Gorman