Among the U.S. states that have recently come around to allowing medicinal cannabis to be cultivated and consumed, Maryland has been moving faster than most. The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission has unveiled their selected rankings of prospective growers and processors who will lead Maryland’s newfound cannabis industry, and have already selected who will be licensed to operate within state lines. However, for some peculiar reason it seems that a handful of the highest ranked applicants were turned down.

The medical cannabis commission has already come under some heat for not failing to include enough racial diversity in their selection process. According to Dr. Paul Davies (the chairman of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission) they purposely made selections without knowing the identity and background of the applicants, this not factoring racial or gender diversity into their decision. One factor they did include, however, was geographic diversity. This has cultivated dissent from highly rated applicants who feel that they were cheated by the commission's selection process.

One rejected applicant, a company named Green Thumb Industries-Maryland, is fighting back against the commission’s allegedly discriminatory selection process through a lawsuit. After initially being named as one of the top 15 applicants in the state, the prospective grow company was suddenly bumped out and replaced by a now Washington, D.C.-licensed grower named Josh Genderson, who was selected despite having a lower rating than Green Thumb.  

Green Thumb’s lawsuit alleges that, although two companies approved to process cannabis into medical products were contacted by the commission and given the opportunity to relocate, the commission failed to reach out and offer them the similar opportunity to move their operation. The denied applicant claims that the commission told applicants that location “is not relevant” for preliminary licensing, and then later reversed course. The recently filed lawsuit asks the court to compel the commission to award Green Thumb with a preliminary license, which it claims to be worth tens of millions of dollars.

It seems as if Green Thumb's lawsuit is may just be the beginning of issues for Maryland's cannabis program. A second rejected applicant, Maryland Cultivation and Processing, has also just filed paperwork to jointly sue the state commission. Like Green Thumb, they were also ranked in the top 15 of applicants, but were denied for the same lack of geographic diversity.

"Our interests are affected by the outcome, and we want to be sure that we've got a voice in the trial," said Ed Weidenfeld, a lawyer and partner in Maryland Cultivation and Processing. "It's my hope and expectation that GTI and Maryland Cultivation and Processing will act together because we both have been deprived of what the state of Maryland not only promised, but voted to do."

Regulators have justified their process by claiming that they’ve focused heavily on geographic diversity, claiming that picking the top-rated applicants would lead to no cultivators in the southern Eastern Shore, as well as south of Anne Arundel County on the west side of the Chesapeake Bay. But those highly rated applicants that were denied counter argued that they should have been asked to relocate their business to these areas in need, and instead were kicked out for lesser quality operations. Unfortunately, this has been far from the only issue that the commission has created with their troubling cannabis system. According to city officials, there was also a glaring lack of minority applicants accepted as well, prompting many to call for more racial diversity in the selection process.  

For instance, Dr. Greg Daniel, an African American man who proposed growing and processing medical cannabis in the city of Easton, claims that these selected companies lack racial diversity and are unrepresentative of Maryland as a whole. His company, Alternative Medicine Maryland, was not selected to receive a license, and he is seeking information about the commission’s permit selection process.

“It boils down to an issue of fairness," Daniel said. "We have had to face many issues in the country … with regards to lack of diversity in housing, jobs and everything else. The state had an opportunity to begin to address that concern and they totally missed the boat."

One of the main issues in the recent uptrend in cannabis businesses is the lack of racial diversity in the industry, a dilemma that some feel was perpetuated by Maryland’s decision-making process. Although it’s arguable that these permits should be given out to the most well-rounded applicants, this reoccurring lack of diversity has some prospective cannabis business owners questioning the motives of these types of cannabis commissions. John Pica, a lobbyist representing Dr. Daniel’s company, believes that the commission should have considered race as a factor. In doing so, they could have turned the tide in the racial discrimination that has plagued the early stages of the U.S. cannabis industry. But, instead, the commission decided to approve companies that Pica calls “major connected players in the state of Maryland”.

"What we saw was these licenses went to major connected players in the state of Maryland … There should have been some grow licenses given to African-American businesses," Pica said.

Other applicants have argued that the Maryland medical cannabis commission failed in geographic diversity as well, although it was said to be a factor in their process. Rejected applicant Jim Martin, who resides in Southern Maryland, is peeved that more permits were granted in other sections of the state, and also claimed that most applicants had no background in farming. All in all, it seems that Maryland’s medical cannabis commission may have taken advantage of the system they set up themselves. Although it is not ethically wrong to choose applicants based on who has the most well-rounded business plan, it is becoming clear that the commission made sure to take care of the “major connected players” before the everyday residents of the state, even when the rejected applicants had a better overall business plan.