By Stephen Janis, Special to the AFRO
When a bill that would expand the number of medical marijuana licenses available in Maryland was introduced to the General Assembly during the current session, Del. Nick Mosby (D-40), said he found something curious.
Inserted in the language was a grant intended to help minority firms, who had thus far been excluded from the 15 companies selected by the state to be the first legal growers of pot in Maryland.
“When I read the bill, it established this grant, but there was no funding mechanism,” Mosby told the AFRO.
As a result, Mosby introduced an amendment that he believed would address the problem; a provision in the law that would set aside two cents out of every tax dollar collected by the state from medical cannabis sales, to fund a grant program meant to give minority firms help in entering the market.
“The biggest issue of minority participation is access to capital,” Mosby said. “The bill as it is currently written does not guarantee minority participation will happen.”
Which is why passage of the bill by the House earlier this month, which will increase the number of state certified marijuana growers to 25, has resulted in lingering tensions among legislators in the state’s Black Caucus. The reason being, Mosby’s amendment was cut in a House Judiciary Subcommittee.
“I guess the powers that be felt it may inhibit the passage of the bill,” Del. Bilal Ali (D-41), who supports the amendment told the AFRO.
“I think it was short sighted.”
Particularly since the bill was intended to address the exclusion of minority owned firms from the first round of licensees, a sore spot for legislators who say the bill is just the beginning of what should be a concerted effort to get Black-owned businesses into what will be a lucrative billion dollar market.
“I was told the revenues from the tax were difficult to estimate,” Mosby said. “I think it’s just rhetoric.”
The setback comes at an especially fraught time for minority owned firms in Maryland.
A recent report by the state Department of Transportation found “statistical evidence” of systemic discrimination against minority-lead firms in the state’s private sector. The report also cited anecdotal evidence from minority business owners that discrimination affected their prospects.
The report recommended a more aggressive approach to awarding contracts to minority businesses to address statewide inequities.
Mosby’s amendment was viewed by several members of the Black Caucus as a critical component of the new legislation, especially because the bill awarded the existing White-owned firms the ability to open retail medical pot stores and processors. It is a move which will give the companies top-to-bottom penetration of the market.
“They’ll have a lot of vertical leverage,” Mosby said.
For now, Mosby is hoping the Senate will revive the amendment, which he says has strong support from the Maryland Black Caucus. The bill is currently in the Senate Finance committee. The legislative session ends April 9.
“It’s completely under the Senate control at the moment, so they can amend it.”