Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Cannabis buds with potency testing results are on display at a dispensary. (Photo: Sonya Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance)

Panel struggles to wrap up medical marijuana rules

ANNAPOLIS — The chairman of a commission tasked with writing new regulations governing recently expanded medical marijuana laws in Maryland said a Tuesday delay on a final vote on those rules would likely be the last.

The 15-member state medical marijuana commission had been expected to take up a vote Tuesday on regulations that would clear the way for 15 growers and as many as 94 dispensaries to begin offering the drug to patients under a doctor’s care.

Fees for everything from patient identification cards and participating physicians to growers and dispensers could be revised in a new draft of state regulations that have yet to be publicly released.

Dr. Paul W. Davies, chairman of commission, attributed the delays to the commission’s effort to incorporate public comment into the latest draft.

“We’ve done our utmost to take into account all the feedback that we got from all interested parties,” Davies said. “We’ve made a lot of changes “

Those changes will likely include reductions in a number of fees that will be charged to patients, physicians, growers and dispensers as well as the addition of new regulations governing the manufacturing of extracts from marijuana to be used for medical purposes.

Davies said that the addition of regulations covering extracts was overlooked in previous drafts but is necessary.

“For medical use, that’s an incredibly important part of the regulations,” Davies said.

The extracts would allow patients to take the drug through other methods, including as a food additive, rather than smoking it.

Under the proposed regulations, those wishing to grow the drug would have to pay $125,000 annually for a license. Licenses for dispensaries in the state would cost $40,000. Organizations wishing to both grow and dispense the drug would have to pay both fees.

It is not clear by how much each fee will be decreased.

The delay met with disapproval from advocates and Del. Cheryl D. Glenn, D-Baltimore City.

Glenn, who sponsored the 2014 bill meant to expand access to the year-old medical marijuana law, said the delays are hurting patients in need.

“We’re already way passed the point we thought we’d be at now,” Glenn said. “I’m frustrated to say the least. I want our patients in Maryland to get medical marijuana. I don’t think anyone expected this process to take so long.”

Glenn said the commission “had good intentions” but said its process wasn’t the best and that commissioners failed to develop relationships with legislators and advocates of medical marijuana.

“Everything was always ‘Wait until the draft regulations are released. It was kept close to their chest, and when it was released there were huge issues with many of the factors in the draft regulations. So, they had to go back to the table.”

Glenn said she felt shut out of the process.

One of the biggest issues needing a fix, in Glenn’s opinion, was the fee structure set by the proposed regulations.

“If you have such a very outrageous fee structure then those fees are going to be passed on to the patients,” Glenn said. “If you’re going to have to pay $250,000 then what are you going to do to recoup your money?”

Glenn said the fees as proposed “would create another layer of the haves and the have-nots.”

Maryland is one of 23 states in which medical marijuana is legal but no one has been able to get a prescription for the drug in the state. Under the law in 2013, dispensing the drug was restricted to teaching and research hospitals, but those facilities declined to participate in the program out of concern they’d lose federal funding because marijuana remains illegal at the federal level.

The General Assembly passed a law earlier this year that is expected to expand access by creating a system of private, licensed growers and dispensers.

Those regulations were supposed to be completed by Sept. 15.

After the commission gives its final approval, the regulations will still need the endorsement of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene as well as the approval of a legislative committee.

Actual dispensing of medical marijuana in Maryland might not happen before 2016.

Davies all but guaranteed the commission would pass out a final product at its Nov. 13 meeting.

“I may be bringing a rope and hanging myself if they’re not,” Davies said.