Opinion: Medical Cannabis Commission Reform Legislation Hurts Minority Businesses
In 2015, Del. Cheryl D. Glenn introduced legislation to legalize marijuana for medicinal use in Maryland and established the Medical Cannabis Commission to regulate the new market. The flawed legislation allowed for the commission to award all of the initial 15 grower licenses to white firms. Taking advantage of racial disparity for political expediency, Del. Glenn jumped in front of the cameras as a vocal proponent in the fight for minority inclusion in the medical cannabis industry. Fast forward to 2018 when Del. Glenn, a Democrat who represents the 45th District in Baltimore City, introduced emergency legislation alleging to solve the racial disparity caused by her previous legislation. The remedial legislation passed, adding an additional five grower licenses and 10 processor licenses. The legislation does very little to address the racial disparity in the prescription medication industry. Instead, the legislation makes it worse for minority businesses.
As Maryland’s premier legal journal, The Daily Record, wrote on March 16, 2018, “HB2 is anti-competitive and protects current licensees. HB2 creates barriers to entry by limiting opportunity, and not only to minority and female entrepreneurs.” By restricting the additional growers’ licenses to companies that already had a processing license, Glenn’s legislation reduced the number of eligible black-owned companies to one. The legislation also locks down the application process until 2024, creating yet another barrier for qualified minority-owned businesses looking to enter the industry. While there are some possible grants for training minorities in the industry, what’s the use if no new licenses are available, except for entry-level menial jobs? Maryland’s medical cannabis industry is structured to be an out-of-pocket expense for patients since insurance companies do not cover cannabis prescriptions. By limiting the application process until 2024, the legislation creates an oligopoly that allows for price-fixing in an industry not regulated by the Federal Trade Commission. The Daily Record noted, “Government should promote an environment for innovation, not handcuff it. Yet that is just what HB2 accomplishes.” Needy patients without funds will be unable to get legal medical marijuana, and the so-called Compassionate Care Fund applies only to those on Medicaid and veterans. What about everybody else? Erin Cox of The Baltimore Sun, wrote in her March 12, 2018, article “Plan to Diversify Maryland Medical Marijuana Market Might Boost White Firms Instead” that “Delegate Cheryl D. Glenn … said it’s possible under the current proposal that no African-Americans would win the new licenses …” Yet, Del. Glenn goes around the community touting her medical cannabis legislation as victory for black Maryland. When the smoke cleared, one African-American company was granted a grower’s license, and two of the licenses went to white men. We need to see what Del. Glenn’s House Bill 2 really does. It supports the status quo and does nothing to help patients or the minority community. A better fix would be to remove the caps on grower and processor licenses and allow any and all qualified companies, big or small, to compete in the marketplace. By doing so, we can ensure that all patients have access to quality medication at an affordable price.
The writer is a Democratic candidate for the Maryland House of Delegates in District 45.