Maryland’s Medical Marijuana System Struggling to Get Off The Ground


When Maryland passed their medical marijuana law in 2013, I was disappointed in the restrictive nature of the bill. The bill does not allow edibles, patients are limited to a 30 day supply, it has a very restrictive list of qualifying conditions, and no caregivers are allowed or home cultivation. Now they are having problems with people possibly affecting the fair and unbiased issuance of licenses along with possible racial disparity in licensing which has been challenged in a lawsuit.

ON Friday July 28th, Maryland’s Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, stepped into the fray by reversing a lower court ruling that barred the finalists in the licensing to be involved in a lawsuit brought by one of the losing bidders, Alternative Medicine Maryland. Lawyers had argued, and the lower court agreed, that their was possibly racial discrimination since none of the original licensees were owned by minorities. The court also did not allow the winning bidders to be involved in the case, leaving the Maryland Medical Marijuana Commission to defend their decisions.

“Private companies who may have benefited from such a violation should not be permitted to intervene in the challenge to the government’s failures,” argued Byron Warnken before the court.

But, an assistant attorney general for Maryland, Julia Bernhardt, argued that it was improper for the commission to be involved in “market regulations” explaining, “There’s just something unseemly with charging a regulating body with protecting the economic interest of the very market participants that it’s regulating, it’s just not workable.”

More recently, there appears to have been a conflict of interest that could have influenced the decision making for those licenses. The Washington Post is reported that the “independent experts” hired to review the applicants and score them so the commission could decide on the winning bids had a major undisclosed conflict of interest. The Post reported:

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.

The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission said it is investigating these potential conflicts of interest.

They include a woman who initially said she had “no known relationships” with individuals applying for cannabis licenses, but later reviewed an application for a company where her husband was a manager and that was affiliated with a Massachusetts marijuana retailer she had co-founded. Two leaders of a District dispensary joined Maryland’s panel of experts while their business partners sought to expand into the state; one disclosed the connection, the other did not.

The commission was overhauled in early July by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan when he appointed 10 new members to the besieged panel. Currently, the licensing has been halted by the courts until a decision involving the case can be reached.

Currently, there is only a single licensed grower for the state and they have yet to create any medicine. They are limited to two dispensaries in each state legislative district, of which there are 47 in Maryland. So far, only 15 growers have been pre-approved for licensing, but the final approvals have been delayed by the lawsuit.

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