During its final week in session, lawmakers are pushing to find common ground on a bill that would raise the number of medical marijuana growers and processors in the state. The measure was passed on at midnight during the 2017 legislative session.
The bill aims to reform Maryland’s nascent medical cannabis industry by making changes to the licensure board and, most significantly, adding grower licenses to settle pending lawsuits and address a lack of diversity in the first batch of 15 grower applications that received pre-approval to operate in the state.
A version of the bill was passed by the House of Delegates early last month and made it through the Senate committee process with relative speed and about half a dozen amendments.
But the Maryland Senate is considering more last-minute amendments to the bill — including one to address the criminal history of medical cannabis license applicants — which means the bill could end up against a tight deadline for the second year in a row.
The center of attention on the bill adds seven grower licenses to the state’s current 15 slots. Two of the new licenses will go to companies that were ranked among the top 15 proposals in the first round of medical cannabis grower licensing in 2016, but were bumped from receiving a license as the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission sought to create geographic diversity among the first licenses issued. A lawsuit filed by GTI against the commission is pending.
Green Thumb Industries, known as GTI Maryland, sought a license to grow in Frederick’s senatorial districts 3 and 4. Under the proposed bill, it and one other company that was bumped will receive two of the seven new grower licenses; the other five will be subject to approval under new regulations expected to be released June 1.
The bill also adds processing licenses, with an emphasis on awarding them to a licensed grower, if the grower applied for a processing license in 2016 and was among the top-ranked processing applications. One company that would benefit is HMS Health, one of two growers licensed to operate in Frederick County.
The Senate Finance Committee met Tuesday evening to consider potential further changes to the bill.
Among the items up for debate is a provision that would address the criminal history of license applicants. In the first round of licensing, applicants with a felony drug conviction were prohibited from gaining medical cannabis licenses.
A provision in this year’s bill passed by the House of Delegates would allow people with a felony conviction to apply if the violation happened more than seven years ago; anyone convicted under the state’s drug “kingpin” statute remained barred from getting a license.
An amendment from Carroll County Sen. Justin Ready (R) that would have maintained the licensing prohibition for anyone with a felony conviction narrowly failed to pass the chamber on Tuesday, garnering a 23-23 tie vote.