Diversity in medical marijuana: Q&A with Maryland license applicant Greg Daniel

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By John Schroyer

New York-based physician Greg Daniel is the face and voice of a Maryland lawsuit that could bring the issue of race to the forefront in marijuana business licensing.

The suit contends the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission ignored a law requiring that racial diversity be a consideration in who received MMJ cultivation permits.

Daniel, the CEO of Alternative Medicine Maryland, is part of the suit, which has resulted in a temporary restraining order that prohibits the commission from handing out the final 14 licenses.

So far, only one cultivation permit in Maryland has been finalized. Daniel’s firm was not among the 15 provisional cultivation license winners, which were announced last August, though he said Alternative Medicine Maryland did win a dispensary license.

The situation may become even more serious. A scheduled hearing Friday could culminate with a judge issuing a preliminary injunction to shut down Maryland’s MMJ licensing until the lawsuit is resolved.

Marijuana Business Daily spoke with Daniel about his ideal outcome and the continuing issue of race in the cannabis business.

What do you hope the lawsuit will achieve?

When the regulations were promulgated, they were required to consider the issue of racial diversity. Now, you’ve got a situation where thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of black people are going to jail for the use of medical marijuana.

Yet, when (licensing for) the growing, processing and dispensing of it comes up, we are nowhere to be seen anywhere in that dimension. We’re totally negated.

In the city of Baltimore, I think there are studies that show that African-Americans are three times more likely to be arrested for the use of that drug compared to their Caucasian counterparts. This kind of reminds me of slavery, where we had to pick the cotton and we had to pick the tobacco -but when it was found out that tobacco kills, it was sold in black communities.

So are we going back to that state? Or are we going to recognize that (African-Americans) need to be at the table, since we are the ones who have suffered significantly over the years?

What would you like to see happen in Maryland? Do you want to see the commission start over with the cultivation licensing process?

Some mechanism has to be implemented that recognizes that minority/African-American-owned companies are included in the process. We can look at starting the process over again. That is one possibility.

The second is adding additional licenses with a preferential recognition that minorities have to be included in a second subset of licenses. I think those are the two more prominent ideas that have been placed on the table.

There needs to be a special session (of the Legislature) in order for this to come to a resolution. And I think the process needs to be stopped until the special session is called and a resolution is agreed upon.

I think in the end (the MMJ licensing) should reflect the diversity of the population. The state of Maryland has a 30% black population, so maybe 30% of the licenses should be awarded to the minority population.

If there was a move to add more licenses, would that come from the Legislature, or is that something the commission could do on its own?

I think the commission was flawed from the inception, and because of that, the Legislature has to be the one that makes the decision and formulates the plan.

How long it will take this lawsuit to play out?

That’s totally up to the state and the Legislature.

As far as (Alternative Medicine Maryland is) concerned, we’d like to see a very quick resolution to this. And we remain open to working through the process to ensure a speedy resolution, so it’s not up to us with regards to how quickly we get to an endpoint.

Certainly, we are looking forward to the (court hearing) on June 2 regarding a more permanent injunction, but we would want to see a resolution – and this issue to be done with quickly.

It is not our intent to hamstring the process … but the issue we have before us is extremely important, and all we’re saying is we think it’s unconscionable to move the process forward without addressing this issue.

Do you think the Maryland MMJ program will work itself out? 

I think it’ll work itself out in time. But once it works itself out, I think it’ll be a model for the rest of the country, vis-a-vis diversity issues. It’s an issue that’s going to come up time and time again as different states move to legalize. And one day – even at the federal level, when this gets addressed – this issue is going to come up.

We need to, as minorities, take a stand and say: We’re not going to be left out of the process.

Do you think more state and local governments need to take minority businesses more into account in the licensing process?

I think they should. One of the major issues facing America as a country is the inequality that has flowed throughout the various business models that have been developed over the decades, and we are being told as minorities that we’re required to be as wealthy as our counterparts in our ability to achieve success.

If that’s the case, then there needs to be a level playing field, and right now the playing field is not level.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

John Schroyer can be reached at johns@mjbizdaily.com