Longdelayed Maryland Medical Marijuana Program Getting Started

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By Fenit Nirappil, The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Nearly 2½ years after legalizing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, Maryland is preparing to issue business licenses to dispensaries and cultivation centers — prompting a range of reactions from local elected officials.

At one extreme, Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh, a Republican, is proposing a ban on cannabis production and shops in the county, which a skeptical state lawmaker likened to a county-specific Oxycontin prohibition. Elsewhere, Republicans hungry for jobs in their rural communities are embracing potential marijuana businesses.

State regulations allow for 94 dispensaries, two per state senate district, and 15 facilities to grow cannabis plants and turn them into medical products, from pills to oil. The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission will start accepting applications this month, which means marijuana that is grown for medical purposes should be available for purchase by the end of 2016.

Potential applicants are meeting with government officials across the state, particularly in western and central Maryland, where land is cheaper and more easily available.

Closer to Washington, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties — like most other suburbs — are mulling their options, waiting to see how the burgeoning industry evolves.

“It’s a mixed bag,” said Hunter Holliman, a consultant to cannabis businesses and medical marijuana legalization activist. He said it was “unfortunate” that Schuh, who voted against medical marijuana legislation as a state lawmaker, was “trying to take this ‘Not in my back yard’ stance.”

Schuh said the state regulations on who can grow and obtain medical marijuana are so loose they amount to legalizing recreational marijuana use. The potential consequences for Anne Arundel, he said, include medical cannabis being resold on the street and would-be robbers stalking patients who leave dispensaries carrying as much as $3,000 worth of pot.

“There are people who will kill for that amount of value,” Schuh said.

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When the state first approved medical marijuana in 2013, only teaching hospitals such as Johns Hopkins University were permitted to distribute it. But no hospitals were willing to participate.

Follow-up laws approved last year and this year allowed for retail shops and private manufacturing of medical marijuana, so long as the facilities follow local zoning and planning rules.

Counties can’t forbid legal businesses unless they have special circumstances, according to an advice letter to the state legislature by the state Attorney General’s office.

Still, State Sen. Robert Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, plans to introduce legislation barring local governments from blocking patient access to medical marijuana — essentially a ban on bans.

“I’ve never heard of local zoning being utilized to prohibit Oxycontin, Percocet or Valium or any other medication,” Zirkin said.

Source: The Cannabist