Maryland officials are unveiling a new portal that will allow people to check their eligibility for a social equity marijuana business license before regulators begin to accept applications later this year.
The Maryland Cannabis Administration (MCA) announced on Friday that the Social Equity Verification Portal will open on September 8. It’s one of the latest ways regulators are working to promote policies built into the state’s legalization law that support communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana criminalization.
“Our goal with establishing this verification tool is to ensure that every person who may be interested in a cannabis business license knows before the application period opens whether they are eligible to apply,” Maryland Cannabis Administration Acting Director Will Tilburg said. “We are excited to offer this verification tool, free of charge, to all prospective applicants.”
The first round of new marijuana grower, processor and retailer licenses will be issued exclusively to equity applicants, making the portal all the more valuable and prospective entrepreneurs consider whether they will seek to participate in the market.
Recreational marijuana sales launched on July 1 through existing medical cannabis businesses that obtained dual licenses that allow them to participate in the adult-use market.
Equity applicants are defined as those whose business is at least 65 percent owned by people who’ve lived in a designated “disproportionately impacted area” for a minimum of five of the last 10 years. They must also have attended a public school in such an area for at least five years, or attended a four-year college in Maryland where at least 40 percent of the students are eligible for a federal Pell Grant.
The announcement about the portal also comes on the same day that MCA’s Office of Social Equity released data on eligible zip codes, public schools and colleges, so people can start looking into their eligibility even before the verification tool is available.
Meanwhile, the state Department of Commerce (DOC) is started accepting applications for $40 million in grant funding to social equity applicants with pre-approval last month.
Regulators have already been accepting applications to provide grants through the same fund to help existing medical marijuana businesses convert into dual licensees that can serve the adult-use market.
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As of now, only previously existing medical cannabis dispensaries are selling marijuana for adult consumers since legalization took effect at the beginning of July. And initial state data shows strong sales, with more than $87 million cannabis purchases in the first month alone.
MCA’s Andrew Garrison said in July that the state was uniquely prepared for the implementation of the marijuana legalization law, which followed deep study from lawmakers and voter approval of a reform initiative at the ballot last year.
As regulators assess the first months of recreational marijuana sales, Garrison said officials are also actively working on a “cleanup bill” to adjust regulations that he expects will be taken up by the legislature during the next session.
MCA will be holding what it describes as “limited town halls” with stakeholder groups, including dispensaries, growers and patient advocates to develop permanent regulations. That process will also involve public comment periods once the draft rules are ready to be published.
Meanwhile, a separate Maryland law also took effect in July that prevents police from using the odor or possession of marijuana alone as the basis of a search. Yet another law that went into force makes it so the lawful and responsible use of cannabis by parents and guardians cannot be construed by state officials as child “neglect.”
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.