In April 2014, the Natalie M. LaPrade Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission was formed to help the state develop and implement regulations for its medical cannabis program. On August 19, the Commission completed these regulations and voted to approve them.
Those in the state who wish to become growers or processors (manufacturers) or open dispensaries can begin submitting applications in September. Physician and patient applications will be available beginning in December. Maryland’s relatively strict law requires physicians to register with the Commission and gain approval for a particular set of conditions for which they will be permitted to write recommendations for their patients.
The structure of Maryland’s regulations means there is no guarantee that a patient’s doctor will be approved by the Commission and, thus, be able to recommend medical cannabis to their patients. A physician referral service will be available that is designed to help patients with primary care physicians that may not support medical cannabis or be willing to write a recommendation.
With the state-level rules now officially approved, Maryland’s medical program moves into the local phase of its regulation. Municipalities will be given the opportunity to write zoning and planning requirements for any cannabis-related business within their borders. Businesses and council members who believe that dispensaries will increase crime are mistaken. Initial data from Colorado is showing that crime rates actually decrease in communities with one or more cannabis dispensaries.
Maryland is one step closer to making its medical cannabis program real and putting actual medicine into the hands of ailing patients. Unfortunately, these patients must wait until December before they can apply for a medical exemption. How quickly the state will process the applications, and how easily it will grant medical status, remains to be seen.
Despite the fact that patients and doctors cannot currently use or recommend medical cannabis, a clinic has already opened in Annapolis. Greenway Consultation opened its doors in early August and offers three consultants and three physicians — none of whom may currently legally recommend cannabis. The clinic accepts debit and credit cards, but not patient insurance. An initial visit costs $200, with follow-up visits half that price.
Nick Petrucci, a spokesperson for the clinic, which is not officially associated with the state of Maryland or its medical cannabis program, defended opening in advance of the ability to actually recommend medical cannabis to patients. He said the lead time is allowing the clinic to build patient-doctor relationships, with the goal of expediting a cannabis recommendation when the program officially begins.