Alternately charging corruption and imploring Maryland House Speaker Michael Busch to "do the right thing," members of the Legislative Black Caucus threatened not to cooperate with fellow Democrats next year unless they get a special session to dole-out more medical cannabis licenses to African-American-owned companies.
"The minority community deserves a piece of the action," attorney William H. "Billy" Murphy told a press conference at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum. "Now the word is out that this is going to be a white-only business? No! That's not the Maryland I love. It's bad enough we have Trump, but now we're complicating it by having friends stabbing us in the back."
A bill that would have added five new growers to the 15 chosen last fall by the Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Cannabis Commission failed in the waning minutes of the legislative session Monday night, as Republican opponents gave speeches while the clock ran out. The Black Caucus wants to add minority-controlled companies to the list, and compromised to include two companies that the commission swapped off the list under questionable circumstances. Those companies have sued the commission, and were set to drop their suit if the bill passed.
"We're not talking about millions of dollars," Sen. Joan Carter Conway said. "We're talking about a billion-dollars."
She suggested the bill was killed deliberately by Busch: "It's unconscionable that what happened in the last 10 minutes of the legislative session."
Del. Cheryl Glenn, who heads the Black Caucus, seconded Conway: "Ray Charles could have seen it. That was a well-orchestrated plan to defeat the bill. To let it go down at the last minute."
Leaving the status quo in place leaves "the same corrupt commission" that bumped the two companies off the top-15 list in place as the regulator. That those two were bumped "was no coincidence," Glenn said, her voice rising. "Follow the money trail! Follow the money trail! My pockets are empty. I’m clean! I’m not afraid of being deposed! Depose me!”
She said Democrats would see “no business as usual” with her 50-member caucus next year if the special session does not happen.
"Fix the situation," Glenn shouted. "Fix it! All we have to do is pick up where we left off."
The special session could last less than a day, Glenn and others said, since the bill in question had the votes to pass and was vetted by Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh.
The tone of the press conference swung wildly from outrage to insinuations of of corruption to praise for the man they insinuated is corrupt—which is not to say they don’t have a case.
As City Paper noted in its Weed Issue last year, "legal weed skips potential black growers and distributors" frequently. Tied to this is the ongoing problem that as weed inches closer to legalization, many people still go to jail over it. As Kaitlyn Boecker policy associate at the Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs in Washington, D.C told City Paper, "biased enforcement" of the weed laws means a disproportionate number of the people put in jail for weed are black.
"Right is right and wrong is wrong," Glenn said. "Keeping the status quo in place is wrong!"
She again returned to the subject of the "corrupt" cannabis commission, which is named for her late mother: "When they tell you they bumped two companies to get geographic diversity—I'mma keep it clean—that's a lie! That's a lie."
Then not long after, she said, "make me proud, Speaker Busch."
The legal team for one of the ousted companies, GTI, was there, including Lanny Davis, a lawyer and lobbyist from D.C. whose notoriety (and, be honest about it, career) is rooted in his friendship with the Clintons.
"I'm gonna talk facts which are not in dispute," Davis said from the lecturn. Busch disappeared on Monday night, "then the Republicans are suddenly invited to make speeches thanking their staff," all while the caucus bill withered.
The companies remaining on the commission's approved list have said they would lose money if more companies were granted permission to grow medical weed in Maryland, Davis said. "My interpretation of that fact: let's put money ahead of justice."
Davis walked through the background that led to several lawsuits last year against the commission: A grower subcommittee voted unanimously on July 27 for all 15 companies that had been selected by Towson University's Regional Economic Studies Institute using a double-blind scoring system.
Two days later, subcommittee chairman Cheverly Police Chief Harry "Buddy" Robshaw called for a re-vote to adjust the "geographic diversity" of the selected companies, which resulted in two being swapped out for a couple of companies lower on the list. "We've never got an explanation, Mr. Robshaw. What happened?"
Robshaw told the litigants, under oath, that his group did not have the geographic information on the first vote. Emails uncovered in the lawsuit indicate that it did. “Mr. Robshaw, we’re going to find out who got to you in those 48 hours,” Davis said.
Davis likened Monday night’s actions to the last summer’s committee vote, insinuating that political chicanery is afoot: "These forces operate in the dark of night," he said. "We will have Mr. Robshaw under oath. The people who intervened with him will be found out."
Conway stepped back to the mic to say, "the money controls both chambers, they just don't control Joan Carter Conway."
Glenn said the companies that were chosen have zero African-American ownership. This assertion comes in answer to a question about whether any study has been done to determine the percentage of African-American investor-owners in the chosen companies overall. Turns out the Commission did reveal this figure, in aggregate. But because she considers the commission is utterly corrupt and untrustworthy, "that chart the commission showed is not worth the paper it’s written on," Glenn shouted. "It's unconfirmed!"
Murphy picked it up and steered it away. "The issue is not employment," he said (though the question was precisely about ownership, not employment). "It's ownership. It's ownership! That's what we want. . . . We don't want the crumbs that come from loyalty and service to ownership."
Of Busch, Murphy added, "he is a very, very good man. He’s very crafty at what he does, very knowledgeable about how his chamber works."