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Diversity Lawsuit Asks Court to Halt Maryland Licensing Process

Delegate Cheryl Glenn, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, calls for a special session to approve additional licenses to grow medical marijuana to create diversity ownership of businesses in Maryland’s developing industry during a Wednesday, April 12, 2017 news conference in Baltimore. (Brian Witte/AP)

The wait for medicinal cannabis in Maryland could be even longer after a medical marijuana company filed an emergency motion Monday asking a judge to block the state Medical Cannabis Commission from issuing any licenses to grow the plant.

Lawyers for Alternative Medicine Maryland asked Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams to temporarily halt the licensing process, arguing that regulators did not consider applicants’ race when awarding preliminary licenses as required by law. The process must be put on pause, Alternative Medicine says, given that officials now appear poised to grant final licenses.

“Time is of the essence,” the company’s lawyers wrote in the motion. “It is undisputed that the commission made no attempt to … actively seek racial and ethnic diversity throughout the licensing process.”

According to the Baltimore Sun, Alternative Medicine’s lawyers maintain that a lawyer for the state admitted during a deposition last week that regulators did not consider applicants’ race during an  earlier phase of the licensing process. The company, which is owned by an African-American and did not receive a preliminary license, is asking the court to weigh in on whether or not regulators adhered to state law.

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If Judge Williams grants the temporary injunction, the matter would put a hold on an industry that was already struggling to get off the ground after years of delays and controversy.

The motion request for an emergency halt to the process comes as the cannabis commission is scheduled to meet and discuss the progress of the 15 companies that won initial approval to grow cannabis, on Wednesday.

The meeting is one of the final steps in the process to begin legal medicinal cannabis cultivation.

Of the 15 companies that won initial approval to grow, none of them has black ownership. About a third of Maryland residents identify as black. Critics across the country have complained that the legal cannabis industry is disproportionately owned by white people.

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Jake Van Wingerden, chairman of the Maryland Wholesale Medical Cannabis Association, said in a statement that the filling would add even more of a delay for the cannabis industry in Maryland.

“This is a frivolous legal filing by an out-of state company and its lobbyist that threatens to delay Maryland’s medical cannabis program even further,” Wingerden said. “Alternative Medicine Maryland was unsuccessful in its home state of New York, did not even finish in the top 20 in Maryland’s double-blind application process, and is now seeking to disrupt Maryland’s medical cannabis program to satisfy its own greed.”

The Maryland law legalizing medical marijuana, which passed in 2014, requires the commission to “actively seek” racial diversity among approved growers and distributors.