Pubdate: Mon, 26 Dec 2016
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2016 The Washington Post Company


Medical marijuana could finally become a reality next year in
Maryland, one of the states slowest to make the drug available for
purchase after legalizing sales.

In 2016, regulators awarded long-awaited licenses to grow, process and
sell cannabis while grappling with fallout from those shut out of the
potentially lucrative industry. Now selected businesses are racing to
set up facilities and pass final inspections so the first seeds can be
planted and flowers can hit the shelves by the end of 2017, four years
after lawmakers legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes.

"For many of us who have been along this journey for a long time, that
we have seen licenses issued is a light at the end of the tunnel for
patient access," said Darrell Carrington, a medical marijuana lobbyist
who leads the Maryland Cannabis Industry Association.

But ongoing litigation from three companies denied growing licenses,
and looming legislation to address the lack of minority-owned
marijuana firms, coulddelay the program.

As in 26 other states and the District of Columbia, the legal medical
marijuana program in Maryland also hinges on the federal government
continuing to turn a blind eye to businesses that are violating the
federal marijuana prohibition. It's unclear whether that will change
in the presidency of Donald Trump, who has supported medical marijuana
but tapped marijuana legalization opponent Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.)
as his attorney general.

Patrick Jameson, executive director of the Maryland Medical Cannabis
Commission, left, talks to reporters in November after the commission
gave initial approval to 102 marijuana dispensaries in the state.
Harry "Buddy" Robshaw, comission vice chairman of the commission, is
standing at center, with panel chairman Paul Davies at right. (Brian

Maryland marijuana regulators say the time spent exhaustively vetting
businesses and developing strict oversight of their operations will
end in one of the nation's most reputable legal pot programs.

"It's no secret that marijuana has a long-documented black market
history," said Patrick Jameson, executive director of the Maryland
Medical Cannabis Commission and a former state trooper. "The
Commission understands that medical cannabis can be controversial, but
it intends to make Maryland's program a high-functioning,
professional, industry-leading medical program."

Officials say they will closely monitor marijuana at every stage of
the marketplace, from how much is grown to how much is sold, using a
tracking system in place in Colorado meant to stop illegal diversions
of the drug and cash.

In addition, Maryland is one of few states to require that marijuana
be tested by an independent laboratory before it can be sold, an
attempt to avoid poor-quality cannabis containing excessive amounts of

"The Commission and I understand that people are suffering and we want
to make the program operational as soon as possible," said Paul
Davies, chair of the 16-member marijuana commission. "Hopefully,
during the summer of 2017 medical cannabis will become available to

He and others said it is not yet clear how the program could be
affected by legislation proposed during the General Assembly session
that begins Jan. 11 in Annapolis.

Del. Cheryl D. Glenn (D-Baltimore), who rallied black lawmakers behind
the medical marijuana cause, is angry that no companies led by African
Americans won grower licenses even after she pushed for legislative
language to ensure minority participation.

She is using her new perch as head of the Legislative Black Caucus of
Maryland to push for an overhaul of the cannabis commission and the
diversification of the industry.

Glenn says she wants to void existing licenses and create a quicker,
race-conscious process for approving marijuana growers -- changes that
advocates of medical cannabis warn could spur further delays.

"Unfortunately, Maryland has had one of the slowest rollouts of a
program like this in the country," said Kate Bell, a lobbyist for the
Marijuana Policy Project. "There are already patients who passed away
waiting for this program. For very sick people, any delay can be

It remains unclear what role Del. Dan K. Morhaim (D-Baltimore County)
will play in supporting or opposing any new legislation. Morhaim, who
was the legislature's chief proponent for medical cannabis, is
affiliated with a marijuana company and has faced scrutiny from his
legislative colleagues over his dual roles. He did not respond to a
request for comment on the Black Caucus's efforts, or his legislative
priorities for the coming year.

Maryland lawmakers first passed a law in 2013 allowing academic
medical marijuana programs. The state authorized private medical
marijuana businesses the next year, after no universities expressed
interest in participating in the 2013 effort.

Other states have moved more quickly to get businesses up and running,
advocates say. New York and Minnesota, for example, legalized medical
marijuana in 2014, and already have the drug available for purchase
for purchase with a doctor's recommendation.

Glenn insists her efforts to diversify the industry will not drive
further delays. The issue is personal for her -- the cannabis
commission is named after her mother, Natalie LaPrade, who died of
cancer before she could use medical marijuana to alleviate her pain.

"I had my mother's picture with me when the bill was signed into law;
I never forget the pain and suffering that people go through every
day," Glenn said. "We can get medicine in the hands of our patients,
but we can do it with the correct amount of diversity."

Commission officials have defended their process for awarding
licenses, and plan to hire a diversity consultant to advise them on
ways to help boost minority participation in the industry.

Any attempts to redistribute or expand the number of licenses probably
will face resistance from the companies that have won approval to grow
and process.

Michael Bronfein, a prolific donor to Maryland Democrats who is chief
executive of Curio Wellness, has been recruiting growers and
processors to form a trade association and hire lobbyists to represent
their interests in Annapolis.

At an October panel in Baltimore, he opposed expanding the number of
cannabis growers in the coming year, according to news reports. He
declined to comment for this article, citing a busy schedule.

Marijuana regulators say the ultimate success of the program depends
on interest from patients and their doctors -- and the quality of the
businesses supplying them.

As of December, just 171 physicians have signed up to recommend
medical cannabis -- a number regulators expect to grow once the drug
is available.

Other medical professionals -- including nurse practitioners, dentists
and podiatrists -- can start signing up in June.

Those who want to purchase medical marijuana will have to enroll in a
patient registry that will also be set up in 2017. Patients must have
a Maryland physician registered with the commission and a qualifying
medical condition, including cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder,
seizures and many others.

Commission officials warn that businesses currently trying to sell
medical marijuana patient identification cards are scams.

"After all of the politics," said Jameson, "this program is about
supply and demand."
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MAP posted-by: Matt