By Bart Schaneman
Maryland’s medical marijuana program, which has been plagued with delays since its inception in 2013, seems to be finally gaining momentum.
In a positive sign to industry watchers, the state’s Medical Cannabis Commission on Monday approved three more cultivation license holders to begin growing and licensed two processors and one testing lab.
“This is a significant step,” Debby Miran, a former Maryland MMJ commissioner and now a cannabis consultant in Baltimore, told Marijuana Business Daily.
However, the state has made inroads recently, including Monday’s approvals.
Maryland now has 13 approved cultivators after the commission approved:
- SunMed Growers (Cecil County)
- Grow West MD (Garrett County)
- Shore Natural RX (Worcester County)
The state’s MMJ program allows for three more cultivators, pending approval. Two of the candidates – Kind Therapeutics (Washington County) and Doctors Orders (Dorchester County) – have filed for extensions to explain why they missed a deadline to have their grow sites up and running.
The final cultivator applicant, MaryMed, was denied a license because two executives from its former parent company, Minnesota-based Vireo Health, allegedly smuggled cannabis oil across state lines. MaryMed has filed an appeal.
Processor licenses approved Monday are Pro Green Medical (Frederick County) and Chesapeake Alternatives (Queen Anne’s County). The one laboratory license approval went to Advent Labs (Baltimore County).
According to The Washington Post, eight processors that missed a deadline will be given additional time to complete their licensing requirements.
Market ready to soar
Miran highlighted the potential for missed opportunity in Maryland’s burgeoning MMJ market.
“Now that we’ve got these growers and nearly all of the processors,” she added, “the ball is in their court to move quickly and according to regulations and get products on dispensary shelves.”
The state allows for 102 licensed dispensaries, but only one, Wellness Institute of Maryland, has opened, and sales aren’t expected to begin until after Labor Day at the earliest.
So far, 424 physicians have signed up to recommend medical marijuana to roughly 12,000 registered patients.
The diversity issue
Maryland’s MMJ legislation called for the inclusion of minorities in the state’s industry, but no African-American cultivation companies have been granted a license.
Earlier this August, lawmakers said they would support “emergency legislation” to potentially expand the diversity of the MMJ industry when they reconvene for their annual legislative session in early 2018.
A pending lawsuit filed against the commission contends the commission ignored a requirement that racial diversity be a consideration in who received MMJ cultivation permits.
Ivan Lanier, a Maryland-based cannabis consultant, said it seems the commission is pushing the diversity issue to ensure growers are submitting the proper paperwork regarding the amount of business each license holder is doing with minority-owned companies.
“That’s going to be a major push from this new commission,” he said, referencing Gov. Larry Hogan’s recent overhaul of the panel.
Cultivators must submit annual reports that meet a certain annual goal – calculated by the region the business is in – of goods and services purchased from Maryland’s certified disadvantaged businesses.
The Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland promotes that requirement as a good way to involve more minority businesses.
There was discussion Monday whether the requirement of an annual diversity report should include dispensary and processor license holders as well, Lanier said.
Hogan has also moved forward with a study on how the state could include more minority ownership in the industry.
Also on Monday, the commission took public comment on whether to add 15 more processor licenses to increase the total to 30, but no decision was made.
Miran said she was surprised a second testing lab wasn’t certified and expects the state to add up to six total labs to help avoid a potential bottleneck.
Bringing more labs online might be a necessity, since Maryland eventually will have up to 102 dispensaries.
“Access for patients shouldn’t be an issue,” Miran said. “I don’t think anyone’s going to be more than 3o minutes away from (a dispensary.)
Licensed dispensaries have until Dec. 14, 2017, to open for business.
“I think the program is absolutely moving forward,” Lanier said. “The new commission is going to put some fresh eyes on all that has happened in the past.”
The key, Lanier added, is whether the commission will open up applications for additional growing and processing licenses.
“Certainly there’s room for improvement, and everyone in Maryland is working toward that,” he said. “We’re finally on the right track.”
Bart Schaneman can be reached at [email protected]