A ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ for long-awaited Maryland medical marijuana program

By Fenit Nirappil December 26, 2016 

Medical marijuana could finally become a reality next year in Maryland, one of the states slowest to make the drug available for purchase after legalizing sales.

In 2016, regulators awarded long-awaited licenses to grow, process and sell cannabis while grappling with fallout from those shut out of the potentially lucrative industry. Now selected businesses are racing to set up facilities and pass final inspections so the first seeds can be planted and flowers can hit the shelves by the end of 2017, four years after lawmakers legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes.

“For many of us who have been along this journey for a long time, that we have seen licenses issued is a light at the end of the tunnel for patient access,” said Darrell Carrington, a medical marijuana lobbyist who leads the Maryland Cannabis Industry Association.

But ongoing litigation from three companies denied growing licenses, and looming legislation to address the lack of minority-owned marijuana firms, could delay the program.

As in 26 other states and the District of Columbia, the legal medical marijuana program in Maryland also hinges on the federal government’s continuing to turn a blind eye to businesses that are violating the federal marijuana prohibition. It’s unclear whether that will change in the presidency of Donald Trump, who has supported medical marijuana but tapped marijuana legalization opponent Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) as his attorney general.

Maryland marijuana regulators say the time spent exhaustively vetting businesses and developing strict oversight of their operations will end in one of the nation’s most reputable legal pot programs.

“It’s no secret that marijuana has a long-documented black market history,” said Patrick Jameson, executive director of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission and a former state trooper. “The Commission understands that medical cannabis can be controversial, but it intends to make Maryland’s program a ­high-functioning, professional, industry-leading medical program.”

Officials say they will closely monitor marijuana at every stage of the marketplace, from how much is grown to how much is sold, using a tracking system in place in Colorado meant to stop illegal diversions of the drug and cash.

In addition, Maryland is one of few states to require that marijuana be tested by an independent laboratory before it can be sold, an attempt to avoid poor-quality cannabis containing excessive amounts of pesticides. (continue reading)