As they filed through the sleek waiting room of Rise Silver Spring, prospective patients — the old, the young, the sick and the curious — came upon deep glass cases that looked like they'd been designed for a high-end jewelry store.
Soon those cases will be stocked with medicinal pot grown and processed in Maryland.
The light-filled storefront on Fenton Street is among the first cannabis dispensaries set to open in Maryland, nearly five years after state lawmakers legalized marijuana for medical use.
Within the next week, Rise is scheduled to begin selling a variety of cannabis products, such as flowers, patches and oils. Four of the state's other eight dispensaries — including Potomac Holistics in Rockville — say they expect to have medical pot delivered and available for sale by Friday, marking the official launch in Maryland of an industry that is worth billions nationwide. Two said they expect to receive their initial batch of marijuana from Curio Wellness in Baltimore County, which did not return messages seeking comment.
"I've been waiting, just like you guys," former Baltimore Ravens tackle Eugene Monroe told a crowd of onlookers at the ribbon-cutting at the Rise dispensary, hoisting a giant pair of red scissors.
Monroe is a partner in Green Thumb Industries, Rise's Illinois-based parent company, and a longtime advocate of cannabis for pain management. He has spoken out against over-prescription of opioids and has called on the National Football League to remove marijuana from its list of banned substances.
In all, 14 growers, 12 processors and nine dispensaries have been licensed by the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission. About 15,000 people have signed up in the hope of becoming patients, with 8,500 already certified to buy medical cannabis, according to the commission. Nearly 550 health-care providers have registered with the state to recommend the drug to their patients.
Legal conflicts and bureaucratic hiccups slowed the launch of the industry in Maryland. The commission was overwhelmed by a slew of applications from interested marijuana businesses, delaying the first batch of license awards by more than six months. Since then, regulators have fended off complaints from businesses and lawmakers who said the process of choosing marijuana companies was unfair.
Green Thumb Industries filed a lawsuit after it won a license to sell the drug but was denied a license to grow it. Company officials originally said they would not open a dispensary without a cultivation license but have apparently reversed course.
Andy Grossman, a partner at GTI, declined to comment on the lawsuit Tuesday. He said the opening of the dispensary was a "great day for the patients of Maryland" who will have access to "quality medicine in a safe and dignified manner."
Tuesday's event was meant to familiarize local residents with Rise, because access to the dispensary will be restricted once marijuana products are in stock and for sale.
Among those who came to look around were Anne Quinlan and Judd Juha, a married couple who both have been battling cancer and are eager to try medical marijuana to alleviate some of their symptoms.
Juha, diagnosed three years ago with lung cancer, hopes it will quell the pain of "hot irons" in his chest. And Quinlan, diagnosed in August with Stage 4 non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, is desperate for an appetite stimulant that can help her regain the 20 pounds she has lost.
"I'm just sad that we got here before they sold anything," Juha said after filling out patient registration forms with his wife.
Bill Askinazi, principal of Potomac Holistics in Rockville, said he expects about 2,000 customers to buy flowers, oils and balms and other products during the first month his store is open. Askinazi put his law practice on hold to launch the dispensary, 20 years after his son found that synthetic cannabis could relieve his debilitating nausea.
For now, local handcrafted paraphernalia, including glass-blown water pipes, line his shop's cabinets, and a copy of Marijuana Business Magazine has been placed in the waiting room. Askinazi said prospective patients have knocked on the door in recent days, asking when sales will begin. "We're eager to get started," he said.
Sajal Roy, who runs a dispensary in rural Allegany County, said he's planning a low-key opening day, limited to a small group of preregistered patients, "instead of having a line of 500 people and causing mass chaos."
Anthony Darby, who leads Peninsula Alternative Health on Maryland's Eastern Shore, said he expects to begin sales soon but is wary of promising a specific opening date.
"I have been in this situation at least two other times, and because of testing labs and other reasons, product hasn't gotten to us," Darby said. "We are hopefully optimistic that this is different and the delivery from Curio will happen."
Aaron Gregg contributed to this report.