Venushki “Venus” Hemachandra has made it her mission to diversify the often White and male dominated medical marijuana industry.
The founder and owner of Herbiculture, a 4,000-square-foot dispensary housed in a business park in Burtonsville, Montgomery County, says she’s used to surprising people by going against age, gender and ethnicity expectations. Already licensed as a dispenser, the Randallstown resident, 31, last year became one of the few women in Maryland also licensed as a grower and processor. She’s now poised to open just such a facility in Baltimore.
“When it comes down to being a young woman, no one expects us to know what we’re doing,” she said.
Hemachandra’s experiences offer one view into the often difficult trajectories of female entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color as they enter Maryland’s young medical cannabis industry, which was established with a largely White, male ownership cadre — particularly among growers — but has been pushed to diversify.
The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission has faced scrutiny and lawsuits after the first 15 companies chosen in 2016 to grow cannabis were all White-owned. Shortly after, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) ordered a study that determined minorities and women were disadvantaged in the industry. In 2018, state lawmakers ordered a second round of licenses and directed the medical cannabis commission to award bonus points to achieve racial and ethnic diversity.
The commission amended its regulations and the application process to include more diversity-related questions, according to David Torres, a spokesman for the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission.
For the second round, the commission “broadly publicized” the new application period, he said. Officials hosted more than two dozen education and outreach events that were free to the public. Grants were also awarded to small businesses to educate and train potential applicants. Subsequently, more than 90 percent of the 200