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Md. commission approves first medical marijuana growing license

(Teri Virbickis /

(Teri Virbickis /

LA PLATA — A state commission has approved the first license for growing medical marijuana but also voted Wednesday to suspend the approval of another because the applicant has failed to respond to questions about problems with operations in Minnesota and New York.

The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission unanimously approved the application of ForwardGro for a grower license. The Stevensonville company has invested more than $10 million into its greenhouse operations and has been operating in a 24-hour test mode in preparation for final license approval, according to Gary Mangum, president of the company.

“This is the most delightful part of being on this commission,” said Commissioner Sandy O. Washington. “Seeing this day come to fruition is extremely emotional for someone that’s advocated for this service in our state. To come to this point, it’s pretty significant today.”

The approval of the first growing license is a significant milestone for the state’s fledgeling program. Created in 2013, the program has been hobbled by a number of missteps that have delayed getting the medication into the hands of patients.

Mangum said after the vote that the approval of the license clears the way for growing medical marijuana in anticipation for when the state approves licenses for processors and dispensaries needed to bring his company’s product to market and to patients.

The decision to award the license comes days after one company, Alternative Medicine Maryland, filed a motion for an emergency temporary restraining order to prevent the commission from issuing any  of the 15 growers licenses until a judge can determine whether the state panel acted appropriately in making its selections.

Lawyers for Alternative Medicine Maryland argue that the commission ignored the law when it failed to take racial and ethnic diversity into consideration as part of the licensing process.

None of the 15 grower licenses was issued to a minority-owned company.

The lack of minority participation within the industry has been criticized by the General Assembly’s Legislative Black Caucus and was the subject of failed legislation during the 2017 session. Those same lawmakers are pressing for a special session this summer to pass legislation that would create five licenses set aside for minority-owned growing businesses.

In April, Gov. Larry Hogan ordered a racial disparity study of the state’s medical cannabis industry.

Two other companies —  MD Cultivation and Processing in Frederick County and GTI Maryland in Washington County — filed suit after they were bumped from the original 15 companies that received preliminary approval after the commission expressed concerns about geographic diversity.

The commission also voted unanimously to suspend the pre-approved application granted last year for MaryMed LLC.

Commissioners took the action after criticizing the company for repeatedly failing to provide information and documentation related to an investigation of sister companies in Minnesota and New York. The suspension affects the company’s pending applications for grower, processor and dispensary licenses.

“Although MaryMed has provided some information and although the records were requested repeatedly, they have not provided all the records requested,” said Howard County State’s Attorney Dario J. Broccolino, a member of the medical marijuana’s final review subcommittee.

“I think this is in order,” said Eric E. Sterling, a commissioner attorney and president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. “This is a straightforward application of state law in this circumstance.”

MaryMed, which is owned by Minneapolis-based Vireo Health, is seeking to open a growing and processing operation in Dorchester County.

“We have deep concerns about today’s decision and will contest it vigorously,” Leonard L. Lucchi, an attorney and lobbyist for MaryMed in Maryland, said in a statement.

The company was the subject of an investigation into allegations that an employee of the company transferred medical marijuana products from the facility in Minnesota to one in New York that was said to be having trouble meeting production goals.

In a 2016 statement posted by the company, officials said the complaint was made by a disgruntled former employee and was without merit.

Commissioners in Maryland said they have made repeated inquiries about the investigation but have not been supplied with all requested documents. The panel made a third request more than two weeks ago and has received no response from the company.

The commission’s action Wednesday effectively freezes MaryMed’s bid. The company’s preliminary license in Maryland expires in August.




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