A cannabis company has filed a lawsuit against the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC) and a number of minority-owned cannabis companies arguing that the process for scoring minority businesses is unfair to white women.
Hippocratic Growth, who applied for grower and processor licenses and were ranked 21st as a grower and 50th as a processor, did not receive any of the pre-approved licenses awarded earlier this month. Hippocratic Growth lists its “team” on its website as Chief Executive Officer Ashley Colen, Chief Operating Officer Paige Colen, and Clinical Director Jamie L. Fleetwood. All are white women. Additionally on the team is counsel Stephen Meehan (who filed this lawsuit), a white man.
Along with the MMCC, the lawsuit names all of the recently announced pre-approved growers and processors: AHI Group, Bouquet Labs, Ceres Naturals, Element MD, Greener Good, Herbiculture Cultivation, Herbiculture Manufacturing, Marileaves Extractions, MAS Alliance, Organic Remedies, and Viola Maryland. On the Hippocratic Growth website, it says they are “committed to the equal treatment and the inclusion of all in this industry,” adding, “We are happy to join alongside anyone who is fighting for fairness and social change.”
The lawsuit stresses that the language of the MMCC’s Medical Cannabis Disparity Study is that it would, “evaluate a study of the medical cannabis industry and market to determine whether there is a compelling interest to implement remedial measures, including the application of the [Minority Business Enterprise Program] or a similar program, to assist minorities and women in the medical cannabis industry.” The lawsuit puts the phrase, “to assist minorities and women in the medical cannabis industry” in bold.
The lawsuit also challenges what former MMCC Executive Director Joy Strand, claimed: “That Maryland’s medical cannabis industry lacked adequate representation of minority and women business owners, with African Americans and American Indians/Native Americans found to be significantly more disadvantaged as compared with other minority groups and women.”
Strand’s claim that Black and indigenous cannabis company owners are “significantly more disadvantaged” is, insofar as the disparity studies revealed, “entirely baseless” according to the lawsuit. In short, the lawsuit is arguing that white women are not any less disadvantaged than Black and indigenous people when it comes to the cannabis industry and as a result, how businesses were scored is all wrong.
Hippocratic Growth is demanding the court declare that the way the MMCC awarded points is a violation of the commission’s own statutes. In effect, that would mean the MMCC must stop further pre-approvals, revoke all of the pre-approvals already awarded, and rescore each grower or processor applications based on the premise that a non-minority, women-owned grower or processor such as Hippocratic Growth is equally disadvantaged as a cannabis company owned by Black or Indigenous people.
Hippocratic Growth’s lawsuit echoes a controversial lawsuit from Sinclair Broadcasting-adjacent Curio Wellness which responded to the 2018 legislative session passing a law allowing more licenses to be awarded to account for race and gender. Then, Curio challenged the law because increased diversity in the cannabis industry negatively affected their bottom line. The response from the cannabis community was that a group of white men were fighting diversity to protect their ability to profit (Curio eventually dropped the lawsuit). Here it appears that Hippocratic Growth is arguing that white women are no less disadvantaged than people of color—a problematic approach to a cannabis industry that is trying to account for the racist war on drugs.
In 2017, Hippocratic Growth sued Queen Anne’s County’s Board of Commissioners because after Hippocratic Growth was awarded a license to open up a medicinal cannabis dispensary and intended to do so on Drummer Drive in Grasonville, MD in Queen Anne’s County. In response, County Commissioners proposed and passed emergency legislation which restricted where dispensaries could be located in the county and stopped Drummer Drive. A judge ruled against Hippocratic Growth, who eventually opened up a dispensary Ash + Ember in Centreville. The year before that lawsuit, Hippocratic Growth was part of a lawsuit with The African-American Medical Cannabis Association against the MMCC, but that case was dismissed by the court.
This recent lawsuit was initially filed in Queen Anne’s County on October 21. It was then closed and refiled in Anne Arundel County on October 23, at the request of Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh’s request for a venue change.
The Outlaw Report has also learned of another pending lawsuit against the MMCC, urging the commission to award the remaining pre-approvals for grower licenses. We will provide more information on that lawsuit when it is filed.