Md. Black Lawmakers Seek Session on PotApril 17, 2017 |
by Brian Witte, Associated Press
BALTIMORE — Black lawmakers in Maryland have called for a special session of the state legislature, after a bill designed to create diversity ownership in the state’s developing medical marijuana industry failed to pass in the regular session’s chaotic closing minutes this week.
Del. Cheryl Glenn, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, described the last minutes of the legislative session April 10 as “a well-orchestrated plan to defeat the bill.” She said the black caucus, which includes 50 of the General Assembly’s 188 members, supports the legislation.
“I am heartbroken, and I’m angry and that is not going to be resolved unless we have a special session and unless we right this wrong,” Glenn said at a news conference with attorneys and caucus members.
Together, Glenn said, the caucus will show their displeasure in next year’s session — an election year — if nothing is done.
“We’re talking about generations of African Americans who have been disproportionately impacted by the marijuana laws in this country, and now that we have medical marijuana legal in the state of Maryland, what the legislature is saying to us, what the leadership is saying to us is that African Americans will not be allowed to have licenses,” Glenn said. “No, that is not acceptable.”
The measure that died on the House floor midnight Monday would have allowed seven more licenses to grow marijuana in the state, in addition to 15 now allowed by law. Two of the new licenses would have gone to two companies that are now suing the state, because they were bumped out of the top 15 companies named as finalists after a state commission abruptly said it needed to increase geographic diversity. The bill also would have allowed five more licenses to create diversity ownership, after a disparity study.
Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, could call a special session of the legislature. Maryland lawmakers also could petition the governor to call a special session, if a majority of members in the House and Senate agree to do so.
House Speaker Michael Busch said he would support passing legislation “that would address the inequities in the medical cannabis industry, with new licenses awarded after a disparity study,” if the governor called a special session. The speaker also called on the state’s medical marijuana commission not to issue any new licenses until the issue is resolved.
“Given the cloud that has hovered over this entire program and the 2017 legislative session, we must be entirely transparent and give the public confidence in the decisions that we make,” Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, said.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said he supports a special session either by call of the governor or by the General Assembly, if an agreement is in place to quickly pass the bill that the House agreed to support late Monday night but could not get through in the final moments.
“In order to resolve all of the problems surrounding the flawed rollout of the program, I would support the rare event of a one-day special session as I believe we could expeditiously pass a bill representing what was eventually supported by both chambers but that the House could not get passed by midnight on sine die,” Miller, a Calvert County Democrat, said.
Shareese Churchill, a spokeswoman for the governor, said the matter is between the speaker and the Senate president.
“This is between the president and the speaker, and it appears they are moving even further apart,” Churchill said.
Maryland first decided to allow medical marijuana in 2013, but the effort stalled because the law required academic medical centers to run the programs, and none stepped forward. The law was later revised, but further delays have resulted from intense interest in a market that stands to be lucrative, largely due to the fact that the law will allow wide patient access.