CannaMED Pharmaceuticals has a $1 million, 47,000-square-foot facility in Wicomico County it’s ready to convert to a growing facility for medical marijuana. It also has a business plan that involves setting aside space in its facility for visiting scientists to do research, as well as devoting millions of dollars in future revenue to university research.
But what CannaMED doesn’t have is a license — or even the initial approval to get one.
The company wasn’t among the first 15 entities who received preliminary approval for grower licenses, a list announced by the Natalie M. LaPrade Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission last week, meaning that after waiting through a months-long application process, the company is now in a sort of limbo.
“We are still in data-collection mode,” said President and CEO Angeline Nanni. “We can’t simply say that we’re finished.”
It’s still theoretically possible for CannaMED to end up with a license. One or more of the 15 entities could be knocked out of the running during the next phase of the licensing process, allowing other applicants to move up. The commission is also slated to consider whether to add additional grower licenses in June 2018.
State law currently allows for 15 grower licenses and 94 dispensary licenses, but does not have a cap on the number of processor licenses. The commission received 145 applications for growers, 124 processors and 811 for dispensaries.
Nanni says the company needs more information about how the applicants were selected — such as the scoring and evaluation of each application by Towson University’s Regional Economic Studies Institute — before deciding whether to keep trying. The commission used the RESI report — with identifying data for each applicant removed — as the basis for its decisions.
The 15 growers given preliminary approval — along with the 15 applicants who were pre-approved for processor licenses — now face further scrutiny by the commission, including financial reviews and background checks, before getting final approval. Commissioners also selected alternates for each type of license, in case members of the initial groups are disqualified.
A second chance?
The commission is still determining if and when it will make the RESI ranking information public. But it will release Wednesday the names and rankings of the top-20 grower applicants and top-30 processor applicants, according to Vanessa Lyon, a spokeswoman for the panel.
If CannaMED received a high ranking, the company may continue pursuing a license; if not, it may explore partnering with a licensee that could use their Hebron facility, Nanni said. Selling the building outright would be the last option, she added.
As for the research donations, which Nanni had hoped would include $10 million for Johns Hopkins University and $10 million for the Institute for Research on Cannabinoids, they’re on hold for now. But Nanni said she hopes the company will be able to sponsor research in the future.
Another applicant passed over in the initial round of approvals is CBH Ventures, co-founded by Neill Franklin, a former Maryland State Trooper and executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, which advocates for marijuana legalization.
Franklin said he wasn’t sure what the future held for his company, either, but hopes the commission approves more grower licenses so the market, rather than regulators, can ultimately determine who should be in the business.
“We’re hoping we’re still in the running for the future,” Franklin said, explaining that he, too, felt it was important for the commission to release the full RESI ranking and scoring information so applicants had a better sense of what the deciding factors were and how to make possible future applications stronger.
But some applicants are prepared to leave it behind.
Rory Murray, CEO of Maryland operations for Aqus LLC, a New York-based group of entrepreneurs and investors, said that while he would stay with the venture if its application was ultimately selected, he was looking forward to finding a new project.
“If our number comes up, I’ll come back to the fold,” Murray said. But after a long, tiring and expensive application process, “I’m ready to just move on at this point.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled the surname of Vanessa Lyon.