By Omar Sacirbey
Maryland business consultant Ivan Lanier is selective about his clients, which bodes well for two entrepreneurs he agreed to help enter the state’s medical cannabis industry.
“I won’t jump into anything if I don’t think I’m going to win,” said Lanier, who founded Greenwill Consulting Group in 2002.
Lanier and daughter Jeanette Ortiz have built a client list that includes companies from heavily regulated sectors including pharmaceuticals and gaming.
So when Dr. Kimberly Brown and Jacob Van Wingerden approached Lanier about applying for medical marijuana business licenses under Maryland’s new MMJ program, Lanier said Greenwill could help.
In August, Van Wingerden won a grow license under the name SunMed Growers. Brown will learn later this year the fate of a dispensary application for her venture, Pharmacan.
Lanier, Greenwill’s CEO, and Brown are among a handful of African-American marijuana entrepreneurs in Maryland, where blacks account for about 30% of the state’s population.
What do winners need to do to get off to a good start?
These growers have to secure the final options on the property, capital, lock in their locations, hire industry expertise. They also have to gain local zoning approval. They have to do all of that within 365 days. Additionally, they’re submitting their Stage 2 applications, which contain their background, financials and so on … You have to be very aggressive in order to get this through.
What did you like about SunMed that made you want to take them on?
SunMed is a small grower and didn’t have any cannabis cultivation experience.
Being a family-operated firm, we felt that the closeness was there and we could really work together. It wasn’t a big corporation coming in. It was a local Marylander. We were contacted by many of the other major companies from other states, but we are a boutique firm and we wanted to stay within our core.
That said, as of today, we are not representing SunMed, but we are still in discussions with them, and we hope to be finalizing something with them very quickly.
What did you like about Pharmacan?
We had represented the two main equity owners before and had fantastic experiences.
And (Brown’s) Pharmacan committed to providing funding for social programs and put that in their application. That was something we felt set them apart from many of the other dispensary applicants – that a percentage of their profits would go to local nonprofits within a 25-mile radius where the company would be dispensing for economic development.
Why were there so few African-American license winners for growing and processing?
I think the commission should have done a lot more public outreach to diverse associations. Public awareness is key. And that breeds relationships, which turn into partnerships, which turn into investment opportunities. I think we could have done a better job on creating that public-awareness campaign. That way we would have probably had a lot more African-Americans apply or be a part of the groups.
But because the commission hasn’t released the application scores, no one really knows how many African-Americans or disadvantaged business owners applied or were among the applicants. Once we get that information released and that transparency, we can come back and address what we should have done or see what went well.
The Black Legislative Caucus has recommended postponing the program to fix this diversity problem, and some have suggested increasing the number of license winners. What do you think about these ideas?
I’m certainly not in favor of (delaying the process). These companies have invested a lot of capital. But I do think you can run a parallel track. Let the license winners continue to move forward with the application process and, in the meantime, there are certain things the Black Caucus can infuse in a new grower and processor application process. Applicants can be made to submit a local business economic development plan and to adhere to the Maryland 29% African-American enterprise goal.
If they were to include those things in the application process, you would see many more small businesses get opportunities.
The Black Caucus will do emergency legislation, and they do have the votes. They can stipulate that the Maryland commission either add another 10 or 15 licenses, and then unlimited processors. There are also counties that didn’t receive any grow licenses, and they may also support the legislation. It’s very fluid here, and it’s a long way from over.
What else can the commission do to help the program?
I think they need a very strong, positive, public relations campaign. Right now, the commission is always on the defensive, and that’s a mistake.
You’re also looking to get involved in Pennsylvania?
We’ve already been retained by Dr. Brown and are actively putting together the team in Pennsylvania. We’re going after grow, processor and dispensary licenses.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Omar Sacirbey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org