Seven nominees to the newly reconfigured Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission got the nod from the Senate Executive Nominations Committee on Monday night, including the chairman who has seen the panel through controversies in recent months.
Brian P. Lopez, was reappointed as the commission’s chairman by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) in October. He was originally appointed to the commission in 2017 as a member of the public who supports medical cannabis. As a partner in Osprey Property Co., he now fills a position requiring experience with executive fiduciary responsibilities.
Other commission nominees receiving approval from the Senate committee Monday night were Philip H. Cogan, Megan Dingus, Elizabeth Quaal Hines, Charles P. LoDico, Saundra O. Washington and Scott L. Welsh.
Hines was introduced by Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), who noted that the commission is “certainly a board that has had a great deal of scrutiny, oversight, change,” as of late.
“I know that the governor’s office worked very hard in appointing this set of nominees for this very, very important oversight board,” Ferguson said.
Washington, a Stage 4 cancer survivor who was reappointed to the panel, said the commission’s work is “very near and dear to my heart.”
“I want us not to forget the patient, don’t forget the people we’re doing this for,” she said.
A bill passed by the General Assembly in the final hours of the 2018 session changed the composition of the commission, which now includes 13 members in several specialized fields.
The 2018 bill was also meant to increase the number of grower and processor licenses in Maryland’s medical cannabis industry after lawmakers expressed concern about the lack of racial diversity of the industry. A January 2018 disparity study concluded that the commission could use race- and gender-based measures to boost diversity in the industry, sparking the push to add the 15 new licenses.
But that process has also sparked questions in recent months, including whether candidates who were about to receive the new licenses included a sufficient number of minority owners.
More than 90% of the applications were submitted by Disadvantaged Equity Applicants, meaning applicants who provided supporting documentation that at least 51% of the ownership interest in the business is held by a member of a qualifying minority group, according to the commission.
In October, after questions from the Legislative Black Caucus and a business owner who encountered problems during the application process, the commission announced it would begin an investigation of the 2019 application process.
In December, a chief supporter of the medical cannabis industry and a critic of the commission, former Del. Cheryl D. Glenn (D-Baltimore City) resigned ahead of federal bribery and wire fraud charges raised against her for pushing cannabis legislation for personal economic gain. She pleaded guilty in January and will be sentenced this spring.
On Friday afternoon, the commission announced it had awarded contracts to two independent firms to conduct the investigation: Verity, LLC and Zuckerman Spaeder LLP.
Verity will review the highest-ranking grower and processor applications to ensure the accuracy of material aspects of information relating to ownership and control.
Zuckerman Spaeder will investigate concerns about potential bias or undue influence in the application evaluation process.
Each investigation is likely to take at least 45 days. A final report will be delivered to the General Assembly and made public.
Anyone with information or concerns regarding potential bias or undue influence in the application evaluation process is encouraged to communicate directly with Zuckerman Spaeder at [email protected] or (410) 949-1177.