Top Democrats in the Maryland legislature have agreed to expand the ranks of medical marijuana growers in the state as part of an overhaul of the burgeoning but beleaguered industry.
Lawmakers are still wrangling, however, over which businesses should have a shot at entry into the lucrative market.
Fifteen companies preapproved last year by regulators can open cultivation sites as early as summer if they pass final inspections and background checks.
Five more growing licenses would be granted under a bill that passed the House of Delegates on Tuesday and is aimed at favoring minority-owned companies.
That bill will probably be amended in the Senate Finance Committee as early as Thursday. House and Senate negotiators say they’re on the brink of a compromise over how many new licenses to issue and whether to shrink the total number of growers if any company fails inspection.
The Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, the largest caucus in the legislature, is insistent on expanding minority participation in the industry, after the Maryland Medical Marijuana Commission failed to license any African American-owned growers.
Lawmakers are also trying to address the concerns of two other companies who sued the state after regulators rejected their applications in favor of lower-ranked bids from geographic regions of Maryland where no growers had been approved.
But the 15 businesses already given cultivation licenses have banded together to oppose expanding the market, sayingtheir business plans and pitches to investors were based on having an early and exclusive foothold in the industry.