Long-Awaited Maryland Lottery Awards First Social Equity Cannabis Licenses

Maryland conducted its inaugural cannabis lottery for adult-use licenses after a 73-day delay, awarding licenses to 174 applicants and marking a significant step for new businesses entering the market since the legalization of adult-use cannabis last summer.

Full story after the jump.

Editor’s note: this article originally appeared in The Outlaw Report, and has been republished with permission.

After a 73-day delay, Maryland held its first cannabis lottery for adult-use licenses on March 14, 2024. The lottery awarded 174 lucky applicants dispensary, grower or processor licenses.

This was the first opportunity for new businesses to enter the market since adult-use cannabis was legalized last summer. Until now, only existing medical dispensaries that expanded to adult-use sales have benefited from the explosion in profit. According to reports, adult-use sales generated an additional $447 million in the first nine months.

Both Calvert and Talbot County were not included in the lottery due to pending litigation. 

Over 1,500 applications qualified for the social equity lottery, which was part of a larger pool of about 3,000 applications submitted last fall. Multiple lawsuits challenging the social equity requirements ultimately failed to delay the lottery.

Mainor Ramirez and his wife, Shalain, were among the lucky winners. They entered the lottery for a micro dispensary license in the Southern district where their chance of winning was less than 3%. Their business, ShayshayTreats and Delivery Service, was one of only two winners chosen from 71 applicants.

The Ramirez’s, who identify as Black and Latino, qualified for social equity in the fall. Being on the starting line of a race for two and half months while they waited for the delayed lottery was not easy. Mr. Ramirez said the couple had to put everything in their lives on hold, but now that they’ve won:

“It feels unreal. [I am] overwhelmed with joy and happiness, and excited but nervous for what’s to come,” Ramirez said. Stepping into the legal market is intimidating, but the couple have waited a long time for an opportunity like this.

According to a Maryland Cannabis Administration press release, over 80% of the 1,515 qualified applicants identified as minority- or women-owned businesses.

Applicants who won licenses are now assigned an investigator who will verify the information of their application, financial information and criminal history. If for any reason a winner does not pass their verification stage, the license will be awarded to another applicant from the same March lottery pool.

Maryland’s social equity program aims to address the disproportionate impact of the war on drugs on communities of color. The first round of licenses went to individuals who could prove they belonged to communities that were over-policed and affected by mass incarceration.

“It’s nowhere near enough for what the war on drugs has done to our community and others lives which still continues to go on,” Ramirez said. “But it is a good start, especially in my area [and] for me.”

The Ramirez’s and the other winners now have 18 months to open shop. Another lottery was anticipated in May, but MCA wrote in an email last Friday, “There is no date for the next lottery.”

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