Marijuana commission head defends review process in light of lawsuit against applicant

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Head of cannabis commission defends application process after pre-approved applicant is sued by federal government for

The director in charge of overseeing the state’s system of background checks for potential medical marijuana business owners says reviews are working as they should, despite the fact the commission did not know one applicant is being sued for discrimination.

Patrick Jameson, executive director of the state’s Medical Cannabis Commission, said a federal lawsuit against one of the owners of a medical marijuana dispensary with preliminary approval would’ve been revealed through the commission’s own review process.

The controversy arose when David Podrog, part owner of Alternative Advanced Therapies which has preliminary approval to set up shop in Annapolis as a dispensary, was sued in federal court for alleged discrimination of Hispanic employees at his previous car wash business.

Despite the fact Podrog was being investigated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as early as 2014 on claims he’d treated Hispanic employees as personal servants at the former Maritime Car Wash near Annapolis, Jameson said the claims would’ve been reviewed as part of the state’s two-part review system.

marijuana-commission-head-defends-review-process-in-light-of-lawsuit-against-applicant photo 1 Phil Davis

The commission regulating medical marijuana in Maryland was unaware that it awarded a dispensary license in Annapolis to a man under federal investigation for workplace discrimination for at least three years.

Advanced Alternative Therapies owner David Podrog, former owner of Maritime Car Wash near...

The commission regulating medical marijuana in Maryland was unaware that it awarded a dispensary license in Annapolis to a man under federal investigation for workplace discrimination for at least three years.

Advanced Alternative Therapies owner David Podrog, former owner of Maritime Car Wash near...

(Phil Davis)

"That’s the part of the investigation we’re in now with this company," Jameson said.

The commission’s first application, which was due in November 2015, did not require Podrog to disclose the EEOC’s investigation.

The commission had received some criticism from Maryland lawmakers after the investigation into Podrog and others at the car wash came to light in a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore last month. The commission only learned of the lawsuit after a story in The Capital outlined many of the allegations.

In the suit, federal prosecutors claim Podrog did everything from making Hispanic employees clean his home without pay to requiring them to use a different, unisex bathroom outfitted with a camera. The suit claims non-Hispanic employees were not subjected to these conditions.

Podrog has not commented on the suit, but co-owner Larry Adler said he thinks the claims are false, saying they don’t fit Podrog’s character.

Jameson said the lawsuit would’ve been required to be included on a second, more intensive application those who passed the first round of reviews are now completing. The deadline for the application is Dec. 8.

If it weren’t included, Jameson said the commission’s own investigators would’ve found the lawsuit.

For Podrog and others, it’s part of a rigorous process which essentially asks them to set up and review every aspect of their business by Dec. 9 to act as a shell while awaiting the state license to actually operate and dispense medical marijuana.

Ranging from establishing all proper planning and zoning approvals from the jurisdiction to having staff already in place, Adler said the requirements are more extensive than typical approvals needed for opening up a new business.

“There comes a point where you have everything already, all your ducks in a row,” Adler said. “Your typical business doesn’t require all of this initial work up front.”

The onus is now on the commission to make their final decisions for 102 dispensaries with preliminary approvals, including nine seeking locations in Anne Arundel.

Advanced Alternative Therapies has already begun to receive county approval to set up the dispensary, getting a special exception to open the location at 2029 West St.

Evolution Wellness LLC has also begun to seek approval from the county to open a location at a former Susquehanna bank building in Edgewater.

marijuana-commission-head-defends-review-process-in-light-of-lawsuit-against-applicant photo 2 Amanda Yeager

Edgewater residents on Thursday shared concerns about a proposed medical marijuana dispensary in their community — though the county's hearing examiner said his chambers were the wrong forum for some of the arguments.

Evolution Wellness LLC wants to open a dispensary in a former Susquehanna Bank...

Edgewater residents on Thursday shared concerns about a proposed medical marijuana dispensary in their community — though the county's hearing examiner said his chambers were the wrong forum for some of the arguments.

Evolution Wellness LLC wants to open a dispensary in a former Susquehanna Bank...

(Amanda Yeager)

While the companies are being asked to make more investments up front than if they were to opening another kind of business, Adler said it isn’t an unnecessary burden.

“The approval process shouldn’t be a problem,” Adler said. “You’ve got to make sure that the individuals getting license meet the standards of the state.”

Jameson acknowledged the process asks for potential owners to make a large investment prior to their final approval, but called it a “business risk” necessary for an industry with “tremendous economic opportunities.”

With the state dictating many of the requirements for applicants, it also limits the authority the county has over the approval for dispensaries, according to county spokesman Owen McEvoy.

He said if a business complies with the state’s requirements, “we couldn’t do anything to stop them,” despite County Executive Steve Schuh’s state opposition to the medical marijuana industry.

"I guess, in theory, if there was one in an area (where) everyone was up in arms about ... you have to do it through zoning code," McEvoy said. "Frankly, the way the law works, it wouldn’t affect the one’s everyone’s upset about,” and only halt future applications before the county.

He added that while Schuh is against any dispensaries in the county, the county executive does not believe the commission should pull Advanced Alternative Therapies’ application prior to the conclusion of the federal lawsuit.

Jameson said the commission is still in the process of reviewing the application, with the second phase of review to include more personal and financial information.

“It’s still far away from actual licensing,” Jameson said. “The state wants the most qualified and professional businesses that can operate with high quality pharmaceutical grade product.”

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