Four years after then-Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) signed legislation that legalized medical marijuana and established a commission to oversee its implementation, Maryland residents finally have legal, albeit limited, access to the drug.
Currently, there are 22 fully licensed dispensaries and at least nine are open for business.
For advocates, residents, patients and applicants vying to establish a foothold in the state’s medical marijuana industry, 2017 has been full of challenges. Here are some of the stories that have shaped the implementation of the program as the state continues to slowly expand access to registered patients across the state.
The lawmaker who pushed to legalize the state’s medical marijuana program was embroiled in controversy.
The early part of the year included the end of a months-long controversy surrounding Del. Dan K. Morhaim (D-Baltimore County), a Maryland lawmaker who helped shape rules around the state’s medical marijuana program. Morhaim was removed from the health committee that oversaw such bills after The Washington Post revealed his connection to Doctor’s Orders, a business that had applied for a dispensary licenses in the state. After an ethics probe, Morhaim was reprimanded.
Maryland’s medical marijuana industry lacked racial diversity. These lawmakers tried to change it.
Regulators in August 2016 awarded the first batch of preliminary licenses to grow and process medical marijuana. None of the 15 cultivators given clearance to grow was led by an African American, although African Americans make up nearly a third of Maryland’s population. To change this, leaders of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland introduced legislation to restructure the industry to make it more inclusive. The legislation did not advance. Following the bill’s failure, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) ordered a study of the racial disparities in the state’s cannabis program, and legislative leaders vowed to support new measures when the General Assembly convenes in January.
Records obtained by The Washington Post revealed that some independent experts, hired to review dispensary licensing applications, had ties to the companies that were applying.
Several of the independent experts hired to review applications to open medical marijuana businesses in Maryland had ties to companies whose materials they reviewed, according to records obtained by The Washington Post. This report triggered an investigation by the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission for potential conflicts of interest.
The industry finally started to settle in, with more licenses approved for cultivators, processors and dispensaries.
Maryland’s medical marijuana program showed renewed signs of life after regulators authorized more companies to grow the plant and process it into medical products. Over the course of fall and into winter, more dispensaries were approved, and the first medical marijuana stores opened for business in early December.
Triumph turned to headache as demand overwhelmed supply.
Maryland patients were soon hit with another obstacle: a very low supply of medicinal marijuana. In the first week of December, five of the seven operating licensed dispensaries reported that they completely, or almost completely, ran out of flower — the raw part of the marijuana plant that is smoked or vaporized — and had limited supplies of other cannabis products. The shortage was because most licensed growers were not yet ready to harvest and sell their crop. It drove up prices, and frustrated patients who had been waiting months or years to have legal access to cannabis to treat nausea, pain or other maladies.