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Medical marijuana commission head resigns

The acting executive director of the state medical marijuana commission has resigned from the post she has held since this spring.

Sharon Heneson Bloom tendered her resignation last month prior to the last meeting of the commission.

Bloom, who also serves as an assistant to former Sen. Paula Hollinger in the department’s health workforce office, said the demands of both jobs ultimately proved incompatible with each other.

“I was here late a lot of nights and I realized that I couldn’t do both,” Bloom said, adding that the schedule meant giving up activities in her personal life, including teaching a fitness class.

“I could never guarantee I’d be out of here at a regular hour,” Bloom said.

Bloom started with the commission last year after she and Hollinger were assigned to it as staff. She became acting executive director this spring just as the legislature was finishing work on measures meant to improve the year-old but never used medical marijuana law.

The agency has already started the search for a new executive director. The position, which would be contractual, would pay between $52,000 to nearly $68,000 annually. Bloom, for her part, said she did not receive a second full salary related to her work with the commission but instead was paid between $8,000 and $10,000 in addition to her current state salary.

News of Bloom’s resignation leaked out over the weekend, just days before the commission is expected to vote on a final version of regulations. The vote comes nearly two months later than the expected Sept. 15 deadline.

Dr. Paul W. Davies, chairman of the Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Marijuana Commission, said Bloom’s resignation was not related to the delays.

“She’s holding two positions at the department of health and she’s decided she couldn’t do both,” said Davies.

Bloom will continue to serve in the position until a replacement is hired.

“I’m scaling back but I’ll continue to do what I can,” Bloom said.

The commission is expected to meet Thursday to vote on the latest revisions to more than 90 pages of regulations that would establish a system of medical marijuana growers and dispensaries around the state.

Supporters of the law have criticized the commission for failing to meet the Sept. 15 deadline for the regulations, for failing to take public input early in the process and for proposed regulations that often seemed at odds with the goals of getting the drug in the hands of patients.

“Every day that goes by is another day that people are suffering or at risk for arrest,” said Del. Dan Morhaim, D-Baltimore County and one of the sponsors of the legislation. “We need to make this program work.”

Morhaim said early drafts of regulations contained rules that would make it almost impossible to grow or dispense the drug, such as prohibiting such businesses from setting up within 500 feet of a school or church. Another proposed regulation, now stricken, would have required applicants for growing licenses to disclose in writing their experience cultivating marijuana plants.

“No one is going to want to submit a form to an agency outlining their history in breaking various federal and state drug laws,” Morhaim said.

Davies said the commission has worked hard to accomplish its task under tight deadlines and said crafting the new regulations “was virtually impossible by Sept. 15.”

Davies said he is confident that Bloom’s resignation will not further delay the adoption of regulations, which would still need approval by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and a legislative committee.

However, Davies expressed concern that Bloom’s resignation could delay licensing growers and physicians and patients.

“I worry that it will delay getting the program up and running,” Davies said, adding that he needs “dedicated staff” in order to run the program once the regulations are approved.

Bloom, though, downplayed her role in implementing the program.

“I’d love to believe that I am that wonderful but there are many competent people out there who can do this job,” Bloom said.

 

About Bryan P. Sears

Bryan P. Sears covers Maryland politics and government affairs for The Daily Record.