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Medical Marijuana CEO Says License Process A "Buzz Saw"

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The CEO of a medical marijuana company that is suing a state commission for bumping the company out of a list of licensing finalists said Tuesday he's "never run into a buzz saw" of a licensing process as he has in Maryland.

Pete Kadens, CEO of GTI Maryland, said the company has medical marijuana licenses in Illinois, Nevada and Massachusetts. There's always expense, hard work and time-consuming administrative details involved in seeking "highly coveted, highly valued, limited licenses, analogous to casino licenses" in terms of value, he said.

"And so we've seen similar issues crop up in other markets," Kadens said. "However, I will say we have never run into a buzz saw in any other market like we have run into here in Maryland with this issue."

Kadens spoke at a news conference a day after his company filed a lawsuit against the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission in Baltimore City Circuit Court.

GTI initially was selected as one of the top 15 applicants out of 146 to grow marijuana. That put it on the path for being licensed, if the company passed background checks. However, a panel of regulators abruptly announced it was bumping two companies out of the top 15 and replacing them with two others. The reason: to fulfill a geographic diversity component noted in the state's law.

Attorneys for GTI are focusing on three dates. The first is Oct. 13, 2015, when the commission initially announced to companies that geographic diversity was not a consideration in the licensing process, attorneys said. The second date is July 27 of this year, when a commission subcommittee voted on the top 15 finalists, which included GTI. It was a unanimous vote that was taken in a public session. But two days later, the subcommittee voted 4-1 in a closed session to bump the two companies.

Vanessa Lyon, a spokeswoman for the commission, said the commission is not commenting on the pending litigation.

Lanny Davis, an attorney for GTI, said the public has a right to know what caused the panel to suddenly change.

"Why not explain what caused you to change your mind?" Davis said. "Who did you talk to? Did you talk to any lobbyist for any company that bumped GTI? Did you talk to any member of the legislature?"

Phil Andrews, the lead counsel in the case, said GTI is seeking reinstatement to the top 15.

Eugene Monroe, a former Baltimore Ravens football player who is a GTI investor, said the commission's decision amounts to changing the rules of the game after it's been played.

"One lesson I learned early in life, and it's followed me throughout my football career, is that you don't change the rules after the game has been played. Yet, that is what happened here," Monroe said.

Maryland's medical marijuana program has struggled to get off the ground, since legislation was first passed in 2013. The law was later revised, but further delays have resulted from intense interest in a market that stands to be lucrative, largely due to the fact that the law will allow wide patient access.

Controversy has swirled around the licensing process this year, as critics note the lack of diversity in the companies selected. Also, a lawmaker who was a leading advocate for medical marijuana legislation has turned out to be a consultant for one of the companies selected as a finalist to both grow and process marijuana.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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