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Cannabis, education, health care among Legislative Black Caucus priorities

The cannabis industry, education and healthcare are among the topics the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland will focus on during the 2023 General Assembly Legislative Session.

Speaking at the group’s first press conference on Wednesday, Senator Jill P. Carter of Baltimore noted the importance of engaging the black community in building the state’s recreational cannabis industry. The caucus wants to prioritize cultivation, possession and dispensation permits for those disproportionately harmed by past criminalization of cannabis.

The caucus also seeks to implement concrete reforms that will repair past losses and prevent future damage. Examples include removing cannabis-related fines and fees, and eliminating cannabis odor as a reason for police checks and checks. Profits from these companies, they insist, should be channeled back to the communities most affected by the criminalization of the drug.

“We have a legal and moral obligation to ensure that black people across Maryland who have suffered the brunt of the criminalization under prohibition are now put in a position where their harm is being redressed and we do not cause future harm,” said Carter, said one Democrat.

Baltimore City Del. Stephanie Smith said ensuring all students have access to quality education and the need to support black teachers and students are overarching themes of the caucus’ education priorities. Recruiting and retaining more diverse teachers at all levels is a key goal, as is strengthening the Maryland Community Schools program – which provides other services, such as job assistance, to students and their families – and doubling funding for a program that offers tax credits for students to borrow to pay for their education. The caucus also wants more input into a plan to spend billions more on state schools, teacher training colleges and other education programs.

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“As we implement the blueprint for Maryland’s future…we think implementation will require the oversight of the Black Caucus,” said Smith, a Democrat, “because one of the reasons we created the blueprint in the first place , is that Black Marylanders were more likely to attend underfunded schools.

Access to healthcare is also a priority.

“This session we intend to save lives with the bills we have filed,” said Prince George’s County Del. Karen Toles, a Democrat.

Goals include automatically enrolling those who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits in Medicaid and expanding the availability of preventive care and testing. A bill Toles mentioned would require insurance companies in the state to cover biomarker tests, which could provide personalized information for cancer treatment. Another bill, drafted in conjunction with the Susan G. Komen Foundation, would eliminate out-of-pocket costs for people who need additional mammograms not covered by their insurance.

Baltimore Democratic Del. Robbyn Lewis spoke of a large-scale public health overhaul for Black Marylanders that will assess the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, examine racial disparities in maternal mortality, and pay special attention to behavioral health and addiction, among other things.

Legislative priorities rounded off with targets on wealth and black business and housing.

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The caucus supports elevating Black-owned businesses and taking steps to address racial wealth disparities, such as expanding the Minority Business Enterprise Program. Another priority is to set aside $2,000,000 in the budget for fiscal years 2026 through 2031 to establish a tech diversity incubator.

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Housing priorities include combating prejudice in the real estate appraisal industry and addressing Maryland’s nationwide shortage of real estate appraisers by offering an alternate route to certification. Further, the caucus is seeking to create a state-level housing voucher program and pass legislation requiring landlords to give 120 days’ notice when a tenant’s rent increases by 4% or more.

Founded in 1970, the group is the largest Legislative Black Caucus in the country. Its 64 members make up more than one-third of the 188 total seats held by members of the Maryland General Assembly.

callan.tansillsuddath@thebaltimorebanner.com

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