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Lawmakers To Help Minorities Access the Cannabis Industry

December 4, 2020 in Cannabis Law

There are 100 dispensaries in Maryland and only 5 of them are Black-owned. The Maryland Legislative Black Caucus has plans to rectify this situation by increasing the number of licenses for people of color. Free expungement clinics are being held to help people of color clear their criminal records so that they can apply for jobs in the cannabis industry. In this article I will explain the Maryland cannabis expungement laws, discuss the free expungement clinics, share information about the not-for-profit organization, Minorities for Medical Marijuana, and discuss the steps that the Black Caucus is taking to give people of color opportunities to enter the cannabis industry.

Maryland Cannabis Offenses Expungement Laws

In April, 2016 Governor Larry Hogan signed a criminal justice reform law that made offenses for possession of under 10 grams of cannabis immediately eligible for expungement. It would no longer be considered a criminal offense. However, for possession of larger amounts of cannabis, offenders would not be eligible for expungement until four years after completing their prison sentence.

Expungement Clinics For Cannabis Convictions

On Saturday, September 26, 2020 Minorities for Medical Marijuana (M4MM) partnered with the first Black-owned dispensary in the country, Mary & Main, located in Capitol Heights, and Vireo Health, to host a free expungement clinic for those with cannabis convictions. Also in attendance was Prince George’s County State’s Attorney, Aisha Braveboy and chairman of the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus, Delegate Darryl Barnes (D-District 25).

Mary & Main, co-founded by Hope Wiseman, just celebrated its second anniversary in September. The dispensary has 20 employees of which 15 are part-time employees. Wiseman feels it is so important to give back to the Black community and is seriously considering offering another clinic next year.

Ten local attorneys gave personal advice to the forty attendants looking to expunge their cannabis-related criminal records. The goal of the event was to help more people of color become eligible for employment in the cannabis industry by expunging their criminal records for cannabis convictions.

Due to the pandemic, the Maryland courts were closed for several months. Now that the courts have reopened, it may take up to 90 days for records to be expunged.

Minorities for Medical Marijuana (M4MM)

Minorities for Medical Marijuana is a Florida-based, national non-profit organization with 27 state chapters. Its focus is providing advocacy, outreach, research, and training for business practices, social reform, public policy, and health & wellness in the cannabis industry.

An 80 page report, titled Understanding Social Equity, compiled by attorney and founder of the cannabis publication Endo Insider, Chris Nani, was recently posted on the M4MM website. The report focuses on the need for medical cannabis states to institute programs that restore the civil rights of those who were previously incarcerated. In addition, these programs must help those interested in entering the cannabis industry with the licensing process and other job opportunities.

Expanding Black Ownership in Maryland

The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC) reported retail sales of more than $240 million in September, 2020. This is more than the total sales for all of 2019. This included almost $41 million generated by dispensary sales.

Yet, of the 100 dispensaries in Maryland, only five of them are Black-owned. In fact, nationwide, less than 2% of the grower, processor and dispensary licenses have been awarded to Blacks. It is the mission of M4MM to rectify this inequality by pushing medical cannabis states to provide programs that increase Black ownership.

According to Executive Director of M4MM, Roz McCarthy, the organization looks for funding to help them start businesses. They also create accelerator programs, including mentors whose job it is to help fledgling businesses to not only become sustainable but to prosper.

MMCC Disparity Study

In 2018, the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission  conducted a disparity study which found that minority individuals do not receive the same opportunities regarding the awarding of medical cannabis licenses. However, a report on the 2019 application process, released in September, 2020 found that there was no “evidence of bias or undue influence in the review process.”

During the 2019 application process, there were delays on the scoring and ranking process due to conflicts of interest. The Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland members postponed the allocation of licenses for a year because they felt too many of the licenses were going to out-of-state investors.

Upcoming Legislation

The chairman of the Maryland Black Caucus, Delgate Darryl Barnes of Upper Marlboro, (D-District 25) voiced his approval for the direction that the MMCC is heading in providing equality for minorities. On October 1, eleven new growers and processors were pre-approved for licenses. More than half of them qualified in the categories of disadvantaged, minority and female.

Delegate Jazz Lewis of Glenarden, (D-District 24) plans to present legislation this month to support policies to increase the presence of minority-owned cannabis businesses. He vows to join with eleven other states to pass legislation to legalize it for recreational use.

Furthermore, an important part of Lewis’ legislation would permit those individuals who live in areas below the poverty line or in areas with a heavy police presence to apply for licenses.

Another proposal under consideration would include funding to support historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), to create a substance abuse program, to reeducate law enforcement agents regarding cannabis decriminalization and to prepare those with an interest in entering the cannabis industry who have served prison sentences.

Delegate Lewis believes now is the time for the Black community to demand equity and inclusion in the cannabis industry.

Sources:
washingtoninformer.com, Maryland Lawmakers’ Agenda to Include Enhancing State’s Legal Cannabis Industry, William J. Ford, Oct. 14, 2020
wusa9.com, Black-Owned Businesses Fighting To Get Maryland Medical Cannabis Licenses

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