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Maryland medical marijuana program: A muted victory, then more uncertainty

The medical marijuana program in Maryland, legalized over four years ago, overcame a major snag in its development last Friday, only to face another hurdle the following Monday, with the no hard answers yet in sight and more frustration building for Maryland dispensary owners and growers.

In a case of incredibly fast movement by the courts, attorneys from CanMD, representing 13 of the state’s cultivators submitted documents to the Maryland Circuit Court of Appeals in Annapolis at 9 a.m. Friday requesting an emergency stay on a temporary restraining order that effectively stopped the industry from going forward. CanMD represents a group of growers and processors in Maryland and advocates for laws, regulations and public policies for Maryland’s medical marijuana program.

The restraining order had been issued two weeks ago by Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams to prevent the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC) from issuing any additional marijuana grow licenses (the MMCC has issued license pre-approvals but no final licenses yet).

The restraining order was connected to a lawsuit brought about by Alternative Medicine Maryland (AMM), a minority-owned pharmaceutical enterprise that had been denied a Maryland license, claiming that the state was not following the diversity rules for awarding licenses.

On Friday, the circuit court in Baltimore was slated to take up the issue at a 10 a.m. hearing. But instead of listening to the many dispensary owners, medical marijuana advocates and patients who had rallied in front of the courthouse, then filed into the courtroom armed with a stack of affidavits supporting the case of allowing the program to resume, the court judge announced that the high court had issued the emergency stay “until further notice.”

While hailed as a victory for the state’s medical marijuana businesses, there was still a concern that the emergency stay didn’t go far enough.

“For the circuit court of appeals to issue an emergency stay as quickly as they did on Friday was a long-shot that worked,” Dr. Michael Chiaramonte, president of the newly-formed Maryland Medical Dispensary Association (MDMDA) wrote in a statement. “That has only happened one or two times in the history of Maryland, and much credit was given to the Friday morning rally.”

The rally of approximately 100 people in front of the courthouse included doctors, patients, representatives of advocacy organizations and Maryland dispensary owners.

At the rally was Reggie Alston, treasurer of MedCan and business development officer of Maryland-based Seven Points Agro-Therapeutics, who was getting ready to testify at the hearing. He says that he got into the business for personal reasons – there are family members suffering from multiple sclerosis. “Hopefully the judge sees that by delaying the process, he is affecting patients more than affecting the business operators trying to obtain licenses,” he said.

Also present at the rally was Kate Bell, a lawyer for the Marijuana Policy Project. “This really isn’t a decision that should be made by the judge,” she said. “This is a political decision that should be made by the elected officials who are accountable to the voters.”

The victory Friday was short-lived.

On the following Monday, June 5, AMM filed a motion for a status quo order designed to keep the temporary restraining order in place until a hearing can be scheduled. The order is set to expire on Sunday, June 11. “That is considered unlikely as it would deny due process to the growers by not allowing them to continue their business operations until the hearing,” Chiaramonte wrote. “Another option is that Judge Barry Williams could extend the temporary restraining order. This is also considered unlikely as he would be ignoring the ruling of a higher court,” he wrote.

As of Wednesday, June 7, the results of the hearing on Monday were still unclear, according to Carissa Cartalemi, treasurer of the MDMDA and co-founder of Hallaway, a Maryland dispensary that has been awarded a stage one license pre-approval. “We are still not sure what happened with that motion,” she said.

Meanwhile, Maryland cultivators and dispensary owners are wondering what to do next. According to the Baltimore Sun, growers, processors and dispensaries picked by the state have already invested $150 million in setting up their businesses and seeking final licenses. “Dispensaries are hoping that the licensing process will go on uninterrupted and we will be able to get medicine to patients uninterrupted,” Cartalemi said. “That would be fall or winter of this year.”

According to the MMCC, which oversees all licensing, registration, inspection, and testing measures pertaining to Maryland’s medical cannabis program and provides relevant program information to patients, physicians, growers, dispensers, processors, testing laboratories and caregivers, medical cannabis will be available to patients from a licensed dispensary in mid-to-late summer 2017.

The license pre-awardees are currently working through stage two of the approval process, which includes undergoing criminal background investigations, completing regulatory requirements, securing local zoning approvals and constructing their facilities.

David HodesDavid Hodes

David Hodes

David Hodes is based in the greater Washington DC metropolitan area. He is the former editor of seven different business magazines, and has contributed feature articles to several business/lifestyle publications and national cannabis magazines. Hodes is also a former field producer for CBS News, NBC, NFL Network, ESPN and other media outlets; worked as a news promotions producer for two network affiliates; and was the morning news editor for a third network affiliate.

He is member of the National Press Club, and deputy booking agent for the National Press Club Headliners Committee.

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