After a dramatic failure, effort to diversify Maryland's medical marijuana industry moves closer to passage

A bill to diversify Maryland’s medical marijuana industry received final approval in the state Senate on Wednesday — after a similar effort to bring in more minority-owned businesses faced a bitter defeat in the final minutes of last year’s session.

About one-third of Maryland residents are African American, but none of the 14 companies that have lucrative licenses to grow medical marijuana are led by black executives. The bill would increase the number of licenses for growers and processors, and it specifies that those licenses will be awarded in a process that gives preference to minority-owned businesses.

“For generations, African Americans have been disproportionately affected by marijuana laws,” said Del. Cheryl D. Glenn (D-Baltimore City), the bill’s sponsor. “To have this industry up and running without African Americans and other minorities involved as owners is shameful.”

But the bill — which was amended by the Senate Finance Committee last week — would also designate new processing licenses for several companies that already have growing licenses, a provision the bill’s critics say provides an unnecessary boon to wealthy companies. It would also award licenses to the two companies that sued the state because they say regulators illegally rejected them in favor of lower-ranking applicants — that provision is opposed by some lawmakers who say legislation should not be used to settle legal matters.

“It does what it set out to do in terms of trying to increase diversity, but, like any good Christmas tree, it has a lot of other ornaments on it,” said longtime lobbyist Gerry Evans, who represents Holistic Industries, one of the two lower-ranking companies that were awarded licenses instead of the pair that filed suit.

Members of both chambers will have to agree to changes made in the Senate before the bill is

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