People who want to buy marijuana in Maryland for medicinal purposes are probably going to have to wait until 2017, nearly four years after the state made it legal.
The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission announced Monday that it will not award licenses to grow and process the drug until sometime in the summer — and industry officials say it will take an additional four to six months after that for the product to be ready to sell.
The commission said it has no target date for allowing retail dispensaries to begin operating and cannot say when marijuana will be available to patients.
Maryland’s medical cannabis program was approved by lawmakers in 2013, but it had to be adjusted multiple times before applications could be sought and submitted.
The commission said this year that it would start issuing licenses in January but backed off that timetable last month after receiving more than 1,000 applications from would-be pot producers and dispensers.
The unexpectedly high interest and the need to vet prospective businesses carefully is driving the delay, the commission said.
Several interested growers have started buying land and leasing buildings for operations in Maryland so they can launch quickly if they are given licenses.
Darrell Carrington, executive director of the Maryland Cannabis Industry Association, said that some prospective businesses may not be able to afford the waiting period but that those that are well planned and well funded should not be threatened.
“Obviously our members are concerned about the length of the time,” Carrington said. “However, we do understand we have to get this right and not just done quickly.”
Those waiting to purchase medical marijuana in Maryland say they are upset about the latest delay.
Sarah Vogeley and her 10-year-old son, who has epilepsy, moved this summer from Virginia to Colorado, where medical marijuana is legally available for children. She said the treatments reduced the youth’s seizures, which seven conventional medications had failed to do.
In October, Vogeley and her son rejoined her husband and two older children in Charlottesville, Va., believing they would soon be able to legally access medical marijuana through Maryland’s out-of-state patient provisions. Vogeley said Monday that she now plans to take her son back to Colorado, leaving behind her ailing father and splitting up her family.
“We just simply can’t wait this long,” said Vogeley, her voice tearful.
Under the tightly regulated program, Maryland may not allow more than 15 growing facilities statewide and more than two dispensaries in each state Senate district. There is no limit on production.
The state has received 146 applications to grow marijuana, 124 to process it and 811 to dispense it. Several businesses applied to open dispensaries in multiple state Senate districts, in what appears to be an attempt to boost their chances of winning licenses. In all, there are about 200 business entities seeking dispensary licenses.
Applications are reviewed and scored by the Regional Economic Studies Institute of Towson University and third-party experts who assess various factors including businesses’ horticultural expertise, security measures and financial stability.
The commission has final say on who gets licenses. Once an initial license is given, growing and processing facilities will have a year to build facilities, train staff and raise capital before passing a final inspection. Some businesses are already taking these steps in hopes of being able to start producing more quickly.
“We have a wonderful wealth of applications to evaluate, and we are going to have exceptional professionals, and now we have to do our due diligence,” said Hannah Byron, the commission’s executive director.
Byron is stepping down from her post in January, and no successor has been named.