The legalization of marijuana has been a source of contention for years, affecting those of various ages, party affiliations, and backgrounds. The question was brought to our home turf nearly five years ago, when a Maryland law initiated the state medical marijuana program. However, only in early December of 2017, after a period of extensive debate and bureaucratic delay, did a state-regulated program begin operations.
On December 14, the appointed regulating commission approved a dozen new dispensaries, including Harvest of Maryland in Rockville, Maryleaf LLC in Germantown, Bloom Medicinals and Herbology in Montgomery County, bringing the total number of legal marijuana dispensaries in Maryland to 22.
The burgeoning industry is facing some growing pains– several storefronts which opened in the beginning of the month quickly ran out of products or faced technical difficulties. Maryland’s fifteen growers only began production in late summer after regulatory delays.
At Potomac Holistics in Rockville, Montgomery County’s first legal cannabis store, the five pound marijuana supply (as well as tablets and elixirs) was entirely depleted within two days of operation. Nevertheless, the store hopes to restock quickly with an expanded line of products.
Despite difficulties getting on its feet, the industry does not seem to be discouraged, partly due to the overwhelming public interest. Potomac Holistics’ owner, Bill Askenazi, said to WTOP, “There’s folks here with multiple sclerosis, with diabetes, neuropathies, cancer and they swear by cannabis. They’ve been waiting for much more than another week. Some have been waiting five years or longer.”
More dispensaries and producers are expected to be in business soon. According to WTOP, Brian Lopez, chairman of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, stated, “All of the dispensaries are showing great progress.”
In 2016, the state commission provided preliminary licenses to 102 businesses. Any business that failed to open would lose their license, in an effort by the state to–excuse the pun–weed out the least successful enterprises and keep the total number of legal dispensaries low.
Throughout the first few months of operation, supply is expected to be exceedingly low in comparison to the ever-high high demand. More than 18,000 people are registered as medical marijuana patients, followed by another 5,000 with pending requests. The scarcity of supply has led to spiraling prices: patients are paying $480 to $680 per ounce of marijuana.
Nevertheless, it is unlikely that the number of registered patients will see a drastic increase any time soon. In an effort to prevent mishandling or abuse of medical marijuana, the commission has mandated that patients go through a detailed and extensive registration process.
After completing a form on the commission’s website, they must hold an in-person meeting with a registered doctor (upwards of 700 doctors have registered with the state thus far, a number that is rapidly rising). Doctors are not permitted to prescribe medical marijuana under Maryland statute, but they may issue certifications to be processed by the commission.
Minors may also access medical marijuana under state statute, provided that their parent and or guardian has approved of and is also registered with the commission.
Despite these new political advances, research on the effectiveness of marijuana to treat various ailments is far from complete. Marijuana, a psychoactive drug, is cited as a relaxant and painkiller. However, the high concentration of THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) in the flowering plant may lead to addiction. Like alcohol, marijuana can impair perception and judgement.
Detractors say that any easing of marijuana restrictions will send a potentially dangerous message to teens, who may be encouraged to try out the drug for purposes other than medical. Recreational use of marijuana, while legal in some states, remains illegal in Maryland.
Overall though, the tide seems to be turning in favor of marijuana users. Twenty-nine states, as well as the District of Columbia, have instituted laws legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes. Allowing for a highly regulated medical marijuana industry is still a far cry from decriminalizing recreational marijuana, which as of now has been done in only a handful of states.
Patients, doctors, and cannabis businesses have formed an unlikely trinity here at home. That local suburban business that just set up shop in the town center may, after all, be a legally mandated weed store. Patients are still scrambling to register with the state commission, and Maryland is positioned to ring in the new year with a quickly growing medical marijuana marketplace. For better or for worse, the industry has gained a strong foothold in Montgomery County.
Article by MoCo Student staff writer Emily Tian of Richard Montgomery High School