Marylanders interested in buying medical marijuana days after the launch of a state-sanctioned program may already be out of luck.
Five of seven licensed dispensaries that have opened since Friday said they have completely or almost run out of flower — the raw part of the marijuana plant that is smoked or vaporized — and have limited supplies of other cannabis products. The other two stores are limiting sales to a small group of preregistered patients.
Kannavis, in Frederick County, sold out of flower Saturday, its first day in business, but still has pre-filled cartridges that can be attached to vaporizing pens. Owner Jane Klink said she was hoping for additional marijuana shipments before this weekend and was keeping patients updated through the store's Facebook page, website and email list.
"We don't have confirmation of anything at this point," Klink said.
The slow start was expected by industry players and regulators. Advocates are not sounding alarms yet but acknowledged the shortages can be frustrating for patients who have waited nearly five years since the first medical-marijuana legalization bill was signed into law.
"There have been shortages in other states just because the demand is so overwhelming, especially initially," said Kate Bell, a lawyer for the Marijuana Policy Project.
Jake Van Wingerden, who leads a group of growers and processors as president of the Maryland Wholesale Medical Cannabis Trade Association, said it will take 60 to 90 days before Maryland's legal cannabis growers can ramp up to fully meet supply.
So far, only Curio Wellness, one of the first growers to receive its license, has shipped marijuana to retail sellers, according to interviews with dispensary owners. A spokeswoman for ForwardGro, the first cultivator licensed in Maryland, said it delivered drugs to processors last month and expects to send flower directly to dispensaries in the next week. Van Wingerden and another grower, Green Leaf Medical of Frederick County, said they plan to start shipments in January.
"I think everybody would like the supply chain to be completely full right away, but that's not realistic when you're growing a crop," Van Wingerden said. "We have a very big pipeline behind it. . . . What you're seeing now is just the tip of iceberg."
Christopher Garrett, a spokesman for the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, said that regulators expected initial supply issues and that dispensaries will build up their inventories in the coming months.
"It's a snowball rolling down a hill," said Andrew Rosenstein, the chief executive of one of four independent testing labs that conduct quality checks on marijuana before its sold.
To buy medical marijuana, patients must register with the state commission and receive a recommendation from a doctor or other health-care provider. Nearly 550 health-care providers have signed up to issue recommendations.
Allegany Medical Marijuana Dispensary, one of the first two shops to open Friday, has served about 150 patients and expected to run out of products Wednesday. Most high-demand products, including tinctures and creams, had yet to arrive.
"It's a very tense situation," said general manager Mark Van Tyne. "It's a learning curve, and there's a lot of growing pains going on right now."
In Montgomery County, two dispensaries ran out of flower early this week and were awaiting shipments. Potomac Holistics in Rockville, which made its first sales Friday evening, closed temporarily Monday and then reopened Tuesday, stocked with vape pens and tablets. Rise Bethesda had received a delivery of vape cartridges provided by the processor Chesapeake Alternatives and still had tablets and elixirs from another company.
The Peninsula Alternative Health dispensary in Wicomico County and the Wellness Institute of Maryland in Frederick County still had flower because they were conducting soft rollouts, selling only to patients who had signed up with them in advance.
"Every patient that is registered and isn't being let in is rightfully upset with us, because they assumed they were going to get it first day," said Michael Klein, who manages the Wellness Institute. "But they'd be a whole lot more upset if they had to stand out in the cold only to be turned away."
Peninsula Alternative Health was prioritizing sales based on the severity of conditions and who signed up first. The dispensary plans to open its doors to the public Dec. 19.
"We just didn't open our doors and have lines of people waiting for 10 hours," said Anthony Darby, the owner. "We tried to have a very organized opening."
The dispensaries that have not yet opened said they are closely watching the experience of others.
"You don't always want to be first," said Mitch Trellis, an owner of Remedy Columbia in Howard County. "Our business model is to curate the best medicine from across the state and make that available to our patients. We don't feel there's enough medicine out there to be able to do that right now."