Maryland residents waited 4 years for their medical cannabis program to be implemented as dispensaries finally opened their doors in December, 2017. There were a lot of “growing pains” to be overcome but what a difference a year makes. The roll out started very slowly with less than 10,000 registered patients and only 10 dispensaries. One year later, the program is very different and has exceeded expectations on many levels.
The Good News
Since the program started, there have been 2 million transactions. Here is what drove this result:
- Increased access to dispensaries which grew from 10 to 71. Any cardholder may visit any dispensary any time.
- 1,000 medical providers have registered with the program to recommend medical cannabis to their patients.
- The list of qualifying conditions includes chronic pain with the ability of doctors to recommend some off-list conditions.
- The patient base surpassed 70,000 as of November, 2018 with a growth estimation to top out at 200,000 in the coming years.
- The enormous volume of flower sales
- 14 cultivators, 14 processors and 5 testing labs provided safe access to medical cannabis products at dispensaries.
- Computerized seed-to-sale database system tracked every step of the entire process from planting to patient purchase. Such a system is thought to prevent illegal trafficking.
Maryland Laboratory Testing Requirements
The Maryland Medical Cannabis Program has some of the best and most comprehensive testing requirements in the country and worthy of note. Cannabis plants are tested at each stage of their development. Each independent laboratory collects a sample from each 10 lb patch of flower for testing. Random samples are collected and tested from each lot of cannabis infused products. The following standards for testing must be met and made available to the patients for each product:
- Cannabinoid Content
- Terpene Analysis
- Heavy Metal Analysis
- Pesticide Residual Analysis
- Microbiological Impurity Analysis
- Water Activity
- Moisture Content
- Residual Solvent Analysis (if applicable)
- Each product comes with a certificate of analysis showing its specific cannabinoid content and concentration
Upcoming Changes in the Program and the Industry
Cannabis edibles have not been available in Maryland dispensaries. The addition of edibles to the list of product choices appears to be something that may very soon be coming to the program. Joy Strand, executive director of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, acknowledges that many patients, especially seniors, would prefer to use edibles as their delivery method. The Commission is in the process of working on including edibles in the program, but as of this writing, there are no details on a time frame for that change. In response to a lack of education, not only amongst patients but also doctors and dispensary staff, there is a push to hire a clinical director for each dispensary.
The senior population is the fastest growing group of new cannabis users. Medical professionals are seeing a trend in the increase of seniors looking for a safe replacement for prescription medications to manage a myriad of conditions that are common as we age. These include diabetes, neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s Disease, MS and Alzheimer’s Disease, cancers, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis and end-of life anxiety, to name just a few. Many seniors are turning to medical cannabis for chronic pain management to replace prescription pain medications which have serious side effects.
Maryland’s dedication to educating its medical community and raising awareness of the benefits of medical cannabis resulted in the first annual Maryland Medical Cannabis Forum, hosted in Baltimore last November 8, 2018. The agenda included addressing the most pertinent cannabis topics facing the medical community today. Up-to-date information about cannabis research and data, protocol and dosing of cannabinoid treatments, regulations, and medical cannabis education was presented to attendees by some of the foremost experts on medical cannabis.
- There were initial problems with the seed-to sale software which caused outages, slowdowns and disruptions at dispensaries.
- The few dispensaries that were open ran out of product within days of the implementation of the program.
- The product shortage was exacerbated by the delay of cultivation licenses after a lawsuit was filed on behalf of minority applicants due to the lack of industry diversity.
Some Really Great News
Finally, the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission just awarded five $45,000 grants for educational and business development programs to women and minority business owners. In response to criticism for the lack of diversity in the Maryland medical cannabis community, the grants were awarded after the passage of 2018 legislation calling for more diversity in the industry. The grants were designed to help minority business owners win one of the pre-approved licenses. The grants were awarded to the following recipients:
- Two grants went to UMED Pharmaceuticals LLC along with University of Maryland Eastern Shore School of Pharmacy and Health Professions and the Cannabis Career Institute. One award will focus on licensing and applications, Category I. The second award will focus on business operations, Category II.
- Two grants for Category I and II trainings went to Grand Journey Solutions LLC, woman and minority owned.
- The 5th grant for Category II trainings went to Uplift Maryland LLC, minority owned.
Leafly.com, Edibles and Emerging Cannabinoids: News from Maryland’s Medical Cannabis Forum, Becky Stavely, Nov. 26, 2018
HeraldMail.Media.com, Panel Reports Growth in Maryland’s Medical Cannabis Industry, Mike Lewis, Nov. 26, 2018
Bizjournals.com, MD Cannabis Commission Awards $225,000 to Support Training, Dec. 18, 2018, Morgan Eichensehr