Chart: Diversity still a hot topic in Maryland’s medical marijuana industry

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Over 35% of those with an ownership stake in a Maryland medical marijuana company – and nearly 60% of those employed by MMJ businesses – are racial minorities, according to preliminary data released by the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission.

But some industry watchers believe those numbers don’t tell the whole story and still contend that the state failed to adequately ensure racial diversity when licensing MMJ businesses.

Four years after Maryland legalized medical cannabis, sales through licensed dispensaries finally began last week.

The licensing process for cultivators, however, was delayed by a legal challenge.

A cultivation company that failed to win a license is arguing that the Maryland commission did not consider an applicant’s race when handing out the preliminary grower licenses – a requirement spelled out in the initial law legalizing MMJ.

Though sales are underway and final licenses have been awarded, the issue of racial diversity in Maryland’s MMJ industry hasn’t been resolved.

State lawmakers will consider “emergency legislation” to expand the MMJ program industry when they reconvene early next year.

Here’s what you need to know about the situation:

  • Maryland’s commission released diversity data in June based on survey responses from 79 preapproved MMJ businesses. A total of 321 business owners and 238 employees were considered as part of the survey, which will be conducted annually.
  • Most businesses participating in Maryland’s MMJ industry were included in the survey. Eleven growers, nine processors and 59 dispensaries provided demographic data, representing 73%, 60% and 58%, respectively, of all companies granted preapproval.
  • The survey data reflects the percentage of respondents who have any ownership stake in a business, not necessarily a controlling stake. For example, 10% of a business may be controlled by a racial minority, meaning the business has a minority owner but is not minority-owned.
  • A national survey of cannabis business owners and founders conducted by Marijuana Business Daily last August found that 19% of respondents who launched a cannabis business and/or have an ownership stake in a marijuana company are racial minorities.

Though Maryland’s efforts to boost diversity in its MMJ program have been criticized, the data clearly shows a higher rate of minority ownership in marijuana businesses relative to the national average.

It’s also important to note that Maryland’s diversity data refers only to plant-touching businesses, whereas the MJBizDaily survey includes ancillary companies – like marketing firms or law offices – where the rate of minority business ownership is higher.

Eli McVey can be reached at