Located near the heart of American politics, complete with a network of world-renowned hospitals, universities, museums, and more, Maryland would seem to be a perfect place to study the many potential benefits cannabis can offer as well as any public impact.
Amid controversy, confusion, and potential discrimination, the program, as administered by the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, has inched forward more slowly than any other of the 28 states and the District of Columbia had in coming online with their respective medical marijuana programs.
MMJ Patients are Done Waiting
From a patient’s perspective, the state approved medical marijuana in 2013, enacted the law in 2014, and not much has happened since.
To the frustration of businesses, the state has also limited the number of dispensaries, grower, and producer licenses the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission may issue, signaling a possible supply issue once the medical marijuana industry is fully operational, at least at first.
As is, the medical marijuana program is allowed to operate two dispensaries per senatorial district, of which there are 47. Due to population density, some areas may be awarded additional dispensary licenses in underserved communities, as the total dispensary licenses the state will allow at the time of writing is 102.
At this time, only 15 medical marijuana processor (the companies behind concentrates, oils, etc.) and 15 medical marijuana grower licenses will be awarded across the state.
Licenses Approved Despite Controversy and Legal Disputes
In mid-August 2017, the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, despite controversy over discrimination and various legal disputes, awarded eight growers licenses to businesses which were pre-approved in August 2016.
To date, 100 dispensaries, 15 medical marijuana growers, and 15 medical marijuana processors have been awarded a pre-approval license, giving them till December 2017 to establish a lease, undergo employee background checks, and endure the final compliance inspection.
Only one dispensary has been awarded a license thus far.
The Baltimore Sun reported in early September that 14 of the 15 pre-approved licenses for marijuana growers have been awarded, while The Washington Post has determined only six processor licenses have been issued. This would mean only 21 out of 132 marijuana licenses have been issued, roughly 16% of the current licensing constraints, setting up the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission with a busy last few months of the year.
Commission officials have indicated the medical marijuana industry will be mostly operational and available to patients beginning in early 2018. As more grower, processor, and dispensary licenses are confirmed, plants have begun taking root, processors are developing products, and dispensaries are working to define the newfound industry at the public level.
Unfortunately, at the time of writing, Maryland state law does not allow edible marijuana products, but patients can still expect pharmaceutical-grade patches, creams, lotions, and salves. Processors can also refine grown marijuana into oils, waxes, shatter, live resin, distillate, and any other product type the innovative and ever-expanding cannabis refinement industry can produce.
Many of the legal disputes facing Maryland’s medical marijuana program include concerns regarding diversity, with very few African American business owners, leaders, or investors represented in those businesses who have received either pre-approval or approval for a license. Just over 30% of Maryland’s population is African American, according to U.S. census data.
Geographic diversity is a further concern of industry members; they are seeking further assurances the industry will be represented equally relative to senatorial districts, population density, and patient volume in each district rather than a limit on industry licensing.
In the same vein, many businesses viewed the mandated 15 medical marijuana growers, 15 processors, and 102 dispensaries as unfair to business.
Current Patient Population and Industry Potential
Marijuana Business Daily reports nearly 13,000 patients and 428 medical professionals have registered for the medical marijuana program in Maryland. This, however, is expected to increase as the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission continues to issue medical cannabis dispensary licenses.
In California, for instance, where the population is over 39 million, it has been conservatively estimated that 1.48% of the total population is enrolled in the state medical marijuana program, totaling roughly 577,000 patients.
In Colorado, where the total population is just over 5.5 million, roughly 2.1% of the state population is enrolled in the medical marijuana program, equaling just over 115,000 patients. From this, we can estimate based on the current population of Maryland how many patients may potentially enter the medical marijuana program once it has scaled across the state.
In 2016, Maryland had just over 6 million residents. Given this information, it can be concluded between 89,000-126,000 patients will ultimately enroll in the state medical program.
One of Maryland’s medical marijuana growers, Green Leaf Medical Center, estimates they will begin by producing 320 pounds of marijuana each month: just over 3,800 pounds each year.
If all 15 growers produce similar volumes, it would suggest that between processors and dispensaries, over 57,000 pounds of marijuana will be produced each year. At a price point of $10 per gram, the revenues could total as much as $255 million annually. And remember, this is for medical only.
The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission has taken steps to get the industry operational, yet the concerns about over-regulation, lack of diversity, and other legal concerns relating to education and training have yet to be fully answered.
For now, the move to license medical marijuana growers before dispensaries or producers makes sense as the plants take months to grow. An ambitious business owner, conversely, can likely complete a remodel in a week or less.
The medical marijuana industry in Maryland is at a turning point. Only time will tell if this is the last.