Insights on Maryland’s Medical Marijuana Program: Q&A With Outgoing MMJ Chief Hannah Byron

By Omar Sacirbey

When Hannah Byron was brought on in early 2015 to lead the newly created Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, she had no staff and only a first draft of proposed regulations for the state’s newest industry.

Since then, Byron has put together a team of bureaucrats who helped her craft a set of regulations that attempt to balance safety with business friendliness, and she streamlined the application process for entrepreneurs seeking licenses.

The result? Maryland received an absolute flood of applications: 1,080 in total, including 800 for the 109 available dispensary licenses and nearly 150 for 15 cultivation permits the state plans to award.

The overwhelming number of applications forced state reviewers to extend the review process and delay announcing winners of licenses from mid-January to this summer.

Byron, who officially steps down on Jan. 27, spoke with Marijuana Business Daily to talk about the licensing process, what makes for a winning application, and the climate for cannabis companies in Maryland.

Why did the commission extend the application review period?

What folks need to understand, and I’m sure they do, is that the volume of applications was very robust.

We want to make sure that our subject matter experts who are reviewing the applications have the time required to review twice to three times the number we thought were going to be reviewed. And we want to make sure that there’s ample time to do the review carefully, because they are 160-page applications.

What was it about Maryland that attracted so many applicants?

I’ve heard a number of things. Industry folks felt that Maryland’s location and its proximity to Washington DC were important. We have been getting commendations for our regulations, in that the industry felt they were well done.

As far as the dispensary applications, one of the things that we were a little bit surprised about were the number of applicants who chose to apply to multiple locations. That really drove that number up.

What will application reviewers look for? What makes for a strong application?

I’m not a voting member, but the subject matter experts will be looking for real quality applications, and looking for state-of-the-art processes and procedures, and quality staff training. I think they have a lot of qualified applicants to review. I think there’s a great potential for having the very best in Maryland.

What do industry people like about the regulations?

I think folks felt that our application established a very level playing field between applicants, because we had limited word counts. It wasn’t one of these one-thousand, two-thousand page applications.

Applicants felt that the regulations were clear and that the way they were synced-up with the applications was clear.

How would you describe the business climate in Maryland for medical marijuana businesses?

There’s been an incredible amount of support from the counties throughout Maryland. Some have already approved zoning for potential growers and processors and dispensaries. We’ve seen a lot of support from local governments throughout the state.

Were there any state models you drew on to set up the Maryland system?

What we looked at was what didn’t work in other states. But we also had a road map from the General Assembly.

There had been legislation that had been passed that had some parameters that we had to include by statute. We wanted to be unique as well in having some elements that some other states didn’t include, with our quality assurance and testing and other things that you didn’t see in some other states.

What were some of the mistakes that other states made?

I don’t remember everything, but it had to do with how their background checks were conducted, some of the security requirements and testing.

What makes Maryland’s program unique?

We’ve been told that our physician and patient registries are very streamlined and simple to use, so we’re hoping we don’t have roadblocks. We wanted to make sure that was one of the things that was included.

What do marijuana businesses need to do to be successful in Maryland?

Many of the applicants have been doing a really good job in educating local government officials and local economic development officials in the areas where they would like to set up their businesses. And part of that is being able to articulate what’s in the regulations, and the security, and the training, and all of the various components that are required.

I think they’ve taken an extra step to ensure that they’re going to be part of the community, that they’re going to bring jobs, that they’re going to work closely with the community. I really think that the industry itself has done a great job in articulating those kinds of things to locally-elected officials and the community at large.

What do you think will be the most important priorities for the new commissioner?

There are a couple of major processes and initiatives that are going to have to be set up, and that includes issuing the first preliminary approvals, and setting up the processes for the stage two approval processes, which have to be clearly articulated.

Setting up the compliance unit and training the compliance officers. Making sure the background check processes are in place and building the budget to be able to hire the staff that will be required. Those are at the big priorities for my successor. (Editor’s note: a successor has not yet been named.)

Omar Sacirbey can be reached at [email protected]

7 comments on “Insights on Maryland’s Medical Marijuana Program: Q&A With Outgoing MMJ Chief Hannah Byron
  1. J on

    How about the fact that MD’s rules are set up to be a complete monopoly? 16 cultivation licenses to fuel a gigantic user population. How about the fact that when I went back to visit and explore applying in my home state, each member I met on that committee was for hire…so the rule-makers are also paid consultants for the various applicants that can afford them? How about how groups awarded cultivation licenses are said to receive more points on their app to ensure a dispensary license as well. Unlimited processing licenses…who cares when the 16 cultivators all have those too and monopolize the industry. To recreate the wheel after we have seen the problems in WA State, IL, AZ, and even the many successes of a well run program in Colorado, seems like a step in the wrong direction a la Ohio when they attempted to do the same as MD regulators. Big business wins which is sad considering who paved the way for this industry to open up in MD. Again, Colorado did this correctly as well as Oregon. The only reason OH got so much attention and their prop was shot down was due to thee fact that a celebrity brought so much attention to the cause. Had these corrupt facts about MD been known more widely among the public, perhaps the millionaires with no experience cultivating or dispensing, and the paid-for legislators would have actually created a way better pathway to success. I predict more operations failing in MD than in any other state due to how this was structured. I predict a 35% success rate. Dog-poo. results if you ask me…should be closer to 70%, nearly double. Furthermore, the interviewee’s responses are all the more indicative of yet another beaurocrat with zero idea of what is actually going on.

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  2. Dave on

    I have lived in Maryland all my life so let me translate: When all kickbacks, and under the table money is settled, we will announce the application winners. Maryland is one of the most corrupt states there is.

    ;

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  3. Tina Greene on

    I was hoping to get more information on quality control including safety and efficacy. This is question more than a comment. Did the commission or commissioner make any comment regarding independent laboratories to determine the quality of cannabis?

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    • Philip Goldberg GreenLeafMedicals on

      Tina, there are strict regulations on testing and quality control. Maryland requires the strictest testing regulations of any state. Any applicant that did not submit a thorough plan for testing would have no chance of receiving a license. Among these strict regulations is the requirement for Cultivators to test their medical cannabis and then retain a portion of the sample to retest every 6 months. The Commission wants to understand how medical cannabis may degrade over time. They want this information available to the public. To the best of my knowledge the application process was genuine and has not been purchased by any millionaire applicants. Also, the assertion that there is a benefit to cultivation applicants that applied for a dispensary license is false. The point system was extremely clear. Anyone who actually read the application would know this. The Comissioners made this clear on more than one occasion. The applicants that receive licenses will be highly scrutinized. Kickbacks, etc…will quickly become lawsuits. With regard to the 15 license limit: the Commission is only planning to award a max of 15 licenses for at least the first year of the program. After that, they have the power to issue more licenses. The Commission expects the industry to grow and evolve as it has in other states with similar regulations. The patient base is expected to be 125,000 after 3-5 years but the first year we may only see 8k-20k patients. With 100+ cultivators you would expect a large percentage to fail. They also wanted to ensure their inspectors would be able to effectively inspect and enforce the regulations. In Colorado, I have heard most of the 500+ Cultivators have rarely if ever been visited by an inspector. This is coming from a cultivation applicant and founding member of the MDCIA(Maryland Cannabis Industry Association) who has spent considerable time interacting with the Commission and participating in patient and physician trainings. People, please join our association. We need all the help we can get! Our next meeting is February 9th at Harry Brownes in Annapolis from 4-6pm.

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  4. Greg Rx on

    What Ms Byron misses is that this has been dragged out for more then 3 years. A good friend of mine is wondering if he will still be alive by the time this ever starts. And yes, he might commit suicide if his doctors don’t kill him first.

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