A lot of things can happen in 900 days. You could get a new job or buy a new house. You could get a college degree. Hell, in 900 days, a woman could theoretically conceive and give birth to at least 3 children. The point is, there’s no shortage of what can be accomplished given that amount of time.
Except in Maryland. The Old Line State legalized medical marijuana over 900 days ago and guess what? Not one patient has yet had access to cannabis.
Why? Where should I begin…
Cannabis Chaos without the Cannabis
Here’s the thing. Most of us were taught from a young age to stick to your word. When you say you’re going to do something you should do it. It’s pretty simple, and yet it’s a concept that individuals, companies, and government alike seem to struggle with.
When the news came that Maryland lawmakers had passed an initiative legalizing medical marijuana, people were thrilled. Now, patients with debilitating conditions that could be helped by cannabis would have access to this life changing plant. Or so they thought.
You see, Maryland has had an… interesting approach to deciding who should be allowed to grow and sell medical marijuana. If you wanted to become a grower or processor, you had to request a license. At this point I should note that, in and of itself, this method is really no different from what growers and processors have had to do in other states where cannabis is medically legal.
Where things get weird is that the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission formed a panel to hand pick who would be granted licenses and who would not.
Yes, you read that right.
The recipients of licenses were hand picked. There was no lottery. The decision was not made based on abilities or past experience. Growers and processors were selected by a bunch of people (with little to no experience with cannabis themselves, I might add) in an effort to choose a group they could feel comfortable calling “diverse.”
While I personally think this is a really strange way to handle this, it could have worked if the panel had stuck to their original decision; but they didn’t. Just ask the folks at Green Thumb Industries in Prince George’s County. In July, they were elated when told they had made the list of pre-approved growers. Everything changed a month later, when Green Thumb was removed from the list. The supposed reason? A lack of geographic diversity amongst applicants.
Green Thumb Industries protested this decision, but to no avail. Now the company is filing a lawsuit against the state. “The path we’re pursuing now is a last resort; we feel like we’ve exhausted all other remedies,” said Pete Kadens, CEO.
So one company had a bad experience. No big deal right? Wrong. Why? Because Green Thumb Industries wasn’t the only company to have this problem. Maryland Cultivation and Processing will be joining the Baltimore City Circuit Court lawsuit as well. And, for all we know, more companies could end up joining them.
Diversity or Uniformity?
If this is all being done in the name of diversity, you’d think that some of the growers and processors chosen would be owned by a variety of races, right?
Nope! In fact, there is so little racial diversity in the commission’s choices that the Legislative Black Caucus is going to introduce emergency legislation during the next General Assembly that calls for the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission to start over.
That decision comes in the wake of Alternative Medicine Maryland, an African-American owned company, being denied a license. “Sometimes I wonder if our application was even reviewed,” commented John Pica, an attorney for Alternative Maryland Medicine.
“The statute states the commission shall actively seek to achieve ethnic, racial and geographic diversity in awarding medical cannabis grower licenses, so they went out of their way to achieve geographic diversity but didn’t do anything to achieve racial diversity,” Pica stated in an interview.
By attempting to restart the process, the hope is to stop the commission from awarding licenses until it adheres to their promise to consider diversity in all forms. “We are not going to let anybody get licenses under the scenario that exists now,” state Delegate Cheryl Glenn (D), added.
If you aren’t livid right now, you should be. Why? Because people who can be helped by medical marijuana are suffering; and it’s all because of bureaucratic nonsense.
Don’t get me wrong; diversity, racial, geographic, and otherwise, is definitely important. While it is a noble cause to want to create an environment in Maryland that fosters diversity when it comes to medical marijuana, we have to remember that there are sick people who have been promised relief and are still waiting for it to come.
Kate Bell, legislative council for the Marijuana Policy Project, urged Maryland to keep their priorities straight moving forward, saying, “We are very concerned with the lack of diversity that is in the current pre-approvals. But we have to remember that, fundamentally, this is about protecting sick patients.”
We also have to consider what these patients have had to do in the meantime. Since Maryland won’t allow people to grow their own marijuana, many patients are having to find alternate routes to get the medicine they need to treat themselves.
Some have had to move to states that actually have their act together. Others have to find ways to have their medicine sent or delivered to them by friends or family, which is risky to say the least. Others still have had no choice but to go the old fashioned route and buy marijuana from a dealer; an option that’s not only risky but also doesn’t provide the same high quality experience or product that purchasing from a licensed dispensary would.
And the rest? They’re just left to suffer.
So How Can Maryland Fix the Problem… and Why Should They?
Aside from the fact that there are sick people in anguish, this kind of fiasco isn’t exactly encouraging to the states that have yet to legalize marijuana in some capacity. When a state thinks about legalizing marijuana, medicinally or recreationally, they often look to other states that have already legalized for encouragement and help.
Maryland is setting a very poor example for its neighbors, like Virginia, where CBD is only available to those with intractable epilepsy, or West Virginia, where marijuana is still absolutely illegal in any form. Why would these states even think about marijuana reform when it’s been so poorly executed in Maryland? Who could blame them for not wanting to try at all?
For other states to have any hope, Maryland needs to change and they need to do it now. The problem is, the process has already started so changing it at this point could be… messy, to say the least. That said, industry leaders are chipping in with ideas for what Maryland’s next move should be.
Like Mike Liszewski, director of government affairs for American for Safe Access. He thinks removing the statutory and regulatory caps that restrict the number of growers and processors allowed to operate in the state may help to ease the tension surrounding the lack of diversity and promote better, healthier competition.
Rachel Perry-Crook, executive director of Maryland NORML, suggested that the state reconsider county-level zoning laws that don’t allow for growing, processing, or vending marijuana in commercial areas. Perry-Crook believes that not doing this could restrict patients’ access to cannabis and cut down on possible revenue. “The supply is not going to meet the demand with how things are laid out right now,” she stated.
There are a lot of people waiting to see what Maryland’s next move will be. Regardless of what that is, legislators need to be aware that they’re under the microscope. Every move they make from here on out will be scrutinized to the nth degree.
Whatever they decide to do to make the best of this situation, they need to remember that in the last 900+ days, countless people who could have had relief with cannabis have died in pain. They need to remember that the number one priority isn’t diversity and it isn’t pleasing everyone; it’s making sure that anyone and everyone who could be helped by cannabis gets access as soon as possible. At the end of the day helping people is what’s important, because helping others is what really matters.