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Md. medical marijuana commission considers expanding processor licenses

Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission Chairman Brian P. Lopez, left, and Executive Director Patrick Jameson talk as public comment is given on potentially adding 15 processor licenses. (Bryan P. Sears)

Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission Chairman Brian P. Lopez, left, and Executive Director Patrick Jameson talk as public comment is given on potentially adding 15 processor licenses. (Bryan P. Sears)

BEL AIR — Maryland could double the number of licenses available to medical cannabis processors before the first plants are even available under a proposal being considered Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission.

The proposal comes as the state weighs what to do with a handful of growers and processors who missed an Aug. 14 deadline for final approval.

And while a trade group that represents many licensees urged rejecting the proposal for at least for a year, others, including the state’s first licensed grower, say expansion will open up the market for innovation and competition and racial diversity.

The commission issued preliminary approvals for 15 grower and 15 processor licenses. Of those, seven are held by companies that will both grow the plant and then process it into products to be sold in state-licensed dispensaries.

Jake Van Wingerden, president of Cecil County-based SunMed Growers LLC and chairman of the Maryland Wholesale Medical Cannabis Trade Association, said he and other holders of growing and processing licenses don’t want additional competition before the state can even offer the medicine to its first patient.

“Our message all along has been no more changes, no more delays,” said Van Wingerden, adding that the state hasn’t even established the market for the product.

“The jury is still out on who will make it to the finish line and who will be successful and who won’t,” he said.

Rebecca Brown, co-founder of Queen Anne’s County-based Chesapeake Alternatives, said issuing new licenses wouldn’t necessarily result in new or better products coming to market and would make Maryland stand out among states that have legalized medical marijuana.

“There is no state in the country with more processors than growers,” Brown said.

But other companies sense an opportunity to bring the product to market faster, including the owners of ForwardGro, the first grower to receive its license. The company also sought a processor license but ranked 17th, just missing the cut of the initial 15.

Gail Rand, chief financial officer for Stevensonville-based ForwardGro, said processors should have expected more competition as there were no limits set on the number of processing licenses the state could ultimately issue.

“We were happy our company was selected to cultivate but frustrated we were not selected (to process) due to the limitations,” Rand said.

“This would allow us to provide our community of patients safe, standardized and consistent medicine at the best value possible without requiring transportation to and from an outsourced facility,” Rand said.

Other supporters of expansion said doubling the number of processor licenses would almost instantly increase racial diversity in the fledgling industry.

Currently, the commission is embroiled in a lawsuit over the lack of minority- and women-owned license holders.

Some members of the Legislative Black Caucus unsuccessfully pushed for a special session this summer to address the issue. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan ordered a diversity study that is currently underway.

The discussion to expand the number of processor licenses comes as the commission gave final approval to three growers and two processors and preliminary approval to one laboratory that will test the plants.

But two growers and as many as eight processors are at risk of seeing the  commission rescind preliminary approvals granted a year ago.

Charles Smith III, vice chairman of the commission and the Frederick County state’s attorney, said no immediate decisions will be made on any of the 10 companies. Instead, the decision on each will be “made on a case-by-case basis.”

Each company awarded a preliminary license last August had one year to seek final approval. State law allows the commission to rescind preliminary approvals and award the licenses to other companies that were ranked just below the cutoff.

The commission has asked each of the companies to submit detailed letters explaining the reasons behind the delays.

Patrick Jameson, the commission’s executive director, said two weeks ago that some companies facing complicated zoning issues might get a pass from the commission while others who have simply failed to secure financing or execute their business plans could find their preliminary approvals rescinded.

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