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Medical marijuana, immigrant protections die on Sine Die

As the Maryland General Assembly’s annual 90-day session hurtled toward midnight Monday night, the legislature ran out the clock on a bill aimed at giving licenses to grow medical marijuana to minority-owned businesses.

The Senate and House of Delegates spent the night disagreeing on specific details.

Both versions would have changed the makeup of the state’s Medical Cannabis Commission, which regulates the new industry, and increased the number of licenses to grow and process the drug to give licenses to minority-owned businesses.

The disagreement centered on two businesses that were initially approved to get licenses and then, because of a quirk in the state’s medical marijuana law, lost them, said House Minority Leader Nic Kipke, who is on the House Health and Government Operations Committee, which considered the bill.

“The Senate seems to want to guarantee in state law that two companies get licenses — two specific companies get licenses,” he said. “The House’s position is that we shouldn’t be directly ensuring that they be gifted with those licenses.”

The House committee agreed to the Senate’s bill with 10 minutes to spare before the legislative session ended. But when it came to the floor, opponents ran out the clock.

Baltimore City Del. Cheryl Glenn, who sponsored the bill and pushed heavily for its success, said she was too disappointed to talk after the session ended at midnight. Earlier in the day, she pressed the need for the legislation.

“Everybody, especially the speaker, knows how important that bill is, and that we cannot conclude Sine Die without passage of House Bill 1443,” she said.

Members of the Legislative Latino Caucus also ended the session disappointed.

“Sen. Bobby Zirkin, shame on you,” shouted Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk at a Latino Caucus press conference Monday afternoon.

Zirkin is the chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, which rejected a bill that would have protected immigrants in their interactions with law enforcement. A key aspect of the bill was that it would have prevented local Maryland jails from honoring “detainers” — requests by federal immigration agents to hold an immigrant without a warrant. Immigration advocates argue those detainers violate immigrants’ rights.

But Zirkin said preventing detainers would mean releasing potentially violent criminals.

“If all of a sudden you had Mohamed Atta, or somebody who Homeland Security was concerned was going to take flying lessons and they were concerned about him as a terrorist threat and for whatever reason, they picked him up on a driving suspended,” he said, “this law in its original form would have had Maryland cutting that guy loose, which is obviously idiotic.”

So the committee killed the bill with the prohibition on detainers and tried to tack some of the bill’s less controversial components onto an unrelated measure. That bill failed on the floor.

Peña-Melnyk blamed Zirkin for the outcome.

“You played with us,” she said. “You killed the bill. You amended it to another bill. You held it on the floor on Sine Die. You knew what you were doing. Shame on you, and I hope your district takes you out!”

Zirkin was unfazed.

“I’m here to do substantive law,” he said. “You do policy and the politics takes care of the politics.”

On the other hand, Gov. Larry Hogan was happy with the session’s outcome.

“I think we got more accomplished in this 90 days than we did in the first two legislative sessions added together,” he told reporters Monday afternoon.

Among his priority efforts, Hogan touted legislation that expands the definition of conflicts of interest for lawmakers and makes it easier for the public to access public officials’ annual financial disclosure filings. The measure, which got a final vote in the House on Saturday, comes in a year when multiple current and former state legislators face corruption charges.

Meanwhile, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh celebrated over the passage of a bill Monday that authorizes him to bring legal challenges against pharmaceutical companies that excessively raise prescription drug prices.

“Price gouging, and surprisingly of generic drugs, has been a huge problem over the past several years,” he said. “People are having to choose between paying the rent and maintaining their health.”

Brendan Reynolds contributed reporting.

Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom. @RachelBaye
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