Attitudes toward marijuana legalization have been changing slowly but surely in the U.S. The advent of legal marijuana in states such as Colorado has helped lawmakers and activists around the country point to significant benefits for the economy and for patients with chronic medical conditions. While Maryland is one of the latest states to approve the legalization of cannabis for medicinal purposes, the regulations and requirements continue to evolve. Entrepreneurs who are thinking of opening dispensaries in the state would be well advised to seek legal counseling in Maryland.
Long Road to Legalization
Officially, Maryland actually legalized medicinal cannabis in 2013. However, the law was so restrictive that patients were unable to make use of the program. The initial law restricted the dispensing of cannabis to select academic medical centers, or teaching hospitals such as Johns Hopkins University. However, there were no teaching hospitals within the state that were willing to enact such a program. The movement toward marijuana legalization benefited from a complete overhaul of the initial law in 2014. Additional follow-up laws were passed in 2015. However, many prospective cannabis dispensary owners are still waiting for licenses to open up shop.
Mixed Reactions from County Governments
The prospect of having medicinal marijuana dispensaries within their jurisdictions has been cause for concern for some county officials. County Executive Steve Schuh (R) of Anne Arundel County is notable for his extreme reaction to the legalization of cannabis dispensaries. He has proposed a complete ban on both manufacturing facilities and cannabis dispensaries within the jurisdiction. Other county officials; however, including some of Schuh’s fellow Republicans, have welcomed the influx of jobs that dispensaries could bring to their areas. And the Maryland Attorney General’s office recently sent an advisory letter to the state legislature informing lawmakers that counties cannot ban legal businesses , absent special circumstances. If Maryland Senator Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) has his way, lawmakers might pass a new law that bans local governments from interfering with patients’ right to access medical marijuana dispensaries. Regardless, by the end of 2016, patients should be able to purchase legal cannabis from 94 dispensaries in Maryland.
If you’re a practicing physician in Maryland, you may have had some patients ask you about medical cannabis and whether you can prescribe it. Since marijuana laws in Maryland are strict regarding which patients can legally use medicinal marijuana, the best way to protect yourself from liability is to consult attorneys who have experience with cannabis laws. If you would like to prescribe medical cannabis, you must first meet the eligibility requirements. You must be licensed to practice medicine in the state of Maryland and you must submit a proposal for each individual patient who wishes to receive medical cannabis.
The proposal you’ll send to the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission must describe the patient’s qualifying medical condition. Qualifying medical conditions include chronic conditions that result in severe symptoms, such as seizures and significant pain. The proposal must also describe how medical cannabis could help the patient, how you plan to screen the patient for drug dependency, and what your plans are for follow-up care.
As you might expect, the process to obtain a medical cannabis dispensary license in Maryland is quite complex. Since the state will be allowing a limited number of dispensary licenses, it’s in your best interests as a prospective cannabis business owner to seek legal counseling in Maryland before submitting your application. Attorneys can advise you of relevant compliance issues and make sure that your application is in order with all necessary supporting documents.
Prospective cannabis dispensary owners can expect to fill out a lengthy application. It requires basic information such as the legal name of the entity and the identifying information for each principal officer. Bear in mind that no applicant or principal officer may apply for a Maryland license if he or she has previously served as a principal officer in a dispensary that has had a revoked registration certificate. One large section of the application requires you to check off boxes to demonstrate that you acknowledge various requirements and that you agree with them. Then, you can expect to answer in-depth questions about your proposed medicinal marijuana dispensary, such as how you plan to minimize any negative impact to the surrounding community and how you will train all dispensary agents in detecting and preventing the diversion of medicinal marijuana. Other examples of required information are:
- How you plan to educate dispensary agents every 12 months regarding the latest medicinal marijuana information
- How the premises will be constructed to prevent unauthorized entry
- How the secure room within the dispensary will be constructed
- How you will maintain surveillance and security systems
These are just a few of the many questions you can expect to answer. It’s highly advisable to consult an attorney in Maryland to ensure that your application package is in order before submitting it.
If you are able to obtain a medicinal marijuana dispensary license, you will be required to pay an annual licensing fee of $40,000 for every year that you are in business. Combined grower/dispensary operators are required to pay higher fees.