Is There Really Any Equity in Maryland’s Medical Marijuana Industry?

In 2018, Maryland’s Governor Larry Hogan ordered an analysis of the business disparities in the state. It was found there were significant disparities with minorities and women (M/WBEs)  in “access to State and private sector contracts and in those factors necessary for business success.”* This was found to be especially true for M/WBEs in regards to the medical marijuana industry. In reaction to this report the state began to offer free training and education opportunities for M/WBEs who wanted to get licensed for opportunities in medical marijuana.

On the surface this training appeared to be an excellent step in rectifying the inequities in the medical marijuana industry. However, as a participant of the training, I quickly realized that this industry was big business and deep pockets were needed to get a foothold in the industry. Training and education would not be enough to address the lack of opportunity.  In fact, the trainers estimated that it would cost $30 million dollars just to get the doors open on a cannabusiness. Access to just one million dollars is not a privilege for most people. So, having millions of dollars as a prerequisite to starting a cannabusiness automatically excludes everyone who is not a part of the one percent. Not to mention that in addition to the millions of dollars needed to start a business it was recommended that we get an attorney,  a lobbyist, and a land zoning specialist to submit a $2,000 application for a grower or processor license. This recommendation was almost insulting, as it was absurd. On average, a typical business license cost no more than $500 in the state of Maryland.

The main take-away I got from the first training was that I needed more money. I needed money to pay an attorney, a lobbyist, a land-use specialist, a $2,000 application fee and I also needed to raise millions to get the doors opened on my business. While I am not easily discouraged, this did not seem like a feasible opportunity for a round the way girl like me with big dreams. As a tax paying citizen and a small business owner, I believe that the state needs to do better at addressing the disparities in the industry. Not only do they need to provide education and training, but they need to provide grants, or at least low-interest rate loans to aspiring entrepreneurs, specifically M/WBEs.  The high upfront cost is a strong barrier and deterrent for M/WBE to participating in the industry, as they historically do not have access to the cash reserves necessary to start businesses.

Additionally, this diversity initiative neglects the thousands of oppressed people who were punished due to marijuana prohibition.  Diversity in cannabusinesses must include this group. It should provide avenues for people to segue from the illegal market to the legit market.  Diversity and inclusion is imperative when chartering into the untapped economic reserve called medical marijuana. Exclusion of any group from participating in this economic boom, will ripple over to the individual, community, and state level.  Equitable opportunity is essential in the cannabis industry. If the state continues to provide subpar assistance to M/WBEs and people who have been historical barred from the industry due to marijuana prohibition they will fuel more segregation between the haves and the have-nots.

Please sign and share this petition to get the Maryland Legislature to provide start-up funding for M/WBEs and people who were historically disenfranchised due to marijuana prohibition. It is imperative that state be held accountable and provide pragmatic assistance to aspiring entrepreneurs wanting to get into cannabusinesses.