ANNAPOLIS – After Maryland is given the OK from the federal government, patients will be able to walk into a dispensary, show their card to the retailer and pick up their medical marijuana prescription.
But before medicinal cannabis ever changes hands from retailer to consumer, it has already been through an extensive trek.
There is a complex process between the time a marijuana seed is planted and when the consumer picks up a prescription at the counter.
That whole intermediate process is one of the factors delaying Maryland’s implementation of medical marijuana.
The marijuana commission
The crowd at the state’s medical marijuana commission meetings in Annapolis on Sept. 9 and Sept. 23 consisted mostly of growers, dispensers and consulting firm representatives who were eager to join the new program. Since September 2013, the 15-member commission has held 15 meetings to discuss details about Maryland’s future medical cannabis industry.
Dispensers, growers and patients in need of medicinal marijuana are growing more and more restless with each passing commission meeting.
Distribution of medical marijuana in Maryland is not expected to start until early 2016.
“I can see recreational marijuana being legalized before medical marijuana is finalized in Maryland,” said Judy Pentz, executive director of the state chapter of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws). “The commission seems stuck in the reefer madness era.”
Sharon Bloom, executive director of the commission, said the wait is for a valid reason.
“There are no obstacles blocking us, only a regulatory process that needs to be followed and the informal process prior,” Bloom said. The commission is still working on the “informal process” of getting Maryland’s medical marijuana industry plans and regulations straightened out before they are sent to the federal government.
“If we do a job that the (U.S.) attorney general and the (Drug Enforcement Agency) reject, we’re back to ground zero,” said Eric Sterling, a member of the commission and a lawyer with over 30 years of experience working on medical marijuana issues.
Maryland is one of 23 states in which medical marijuana is legal.
According to the commission’s latest draft of regulations, grower application fees in Maryland are not to exceed $6,000, but annual license fees for growers are $125,000. Licensing fees for dispensaries are $40,000 a year.
In Colorado, the application fees for dispensaries can be as high as $15,000, depending on what type of distributor it is. Licensing fees can cost up to $13,200.
In Washington state, marijuana producers must pay an annual fee of $1,000 and a $250 application fee. Retailers must pay the same fees.
Though a few members of the commission admitted Maryland’s fees seem high, especially for small businesses, Bloom maintained they are not negotiable.
“We need to have the money to support our program,” Bloom said. “These fees are in line with other states with a similar number of dispensers. We were given a rather limited budget and we’re doing the best we can.”
Depending on the state, the marijuana seed or cutting could start out in farm soil or in a greenhouse or a highly secured warehouse.
Cloning is a method of breeding plants by cutting and rooting a healthy shoot. A clone has one parent and is genetically identical to it. The donor plant is known as a “mother plant.”
Growers use the cloning method for a variety of reasons, according to Kris Hermes, the media specialist at Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group based in California and Washington, D.C.
Firstly, it ensures the gender of the plant, which is “immensely important,” Hermes said.
Growers prefer unpollenated female plants because they produce the most potent “smokeable buds” filled with Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the principal chemical in cannabis that makes users feel high. Male plants produce no buds and minimal THC, according to Hermes.
Cloning also enables growers to easily produce “large quantities of new plants,” Hermes said.
Cuttings or clones usually cost between $6 and $15 apiece, according to Ben Holmes, an experienced cannabis cultivator and founder of Centennial Seeds in Denver.
Far fewer cultivators use seeds now than in previous years, with the exception of those who are trying to create hybrid strains, according to Hermes. These hybrids are combinations of different strains, catered to the specific symptoms of patients. Certain strains, such as Charlotte’s Web, contain more THC than others and are more
Holmes said he believes the seed industry will take off as marijuana laws loosen up across the country.