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Md. halts sale of medical cannabis from ForwardGro

Freshly harvested medical marijuana (Thinkstock)

Freshly harvested medical marijuana (Thinkstock)

Regulators charged with overseeing Maryland’s medical cannabis program cannot immediately confirm if patients or their caregivers or doctors have been notified of a two-week old order that stopped the sale of marijuana from one grower.

The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission ordered 69 dispensaries around the state to stop selling products containing marijuana grown by Arnold-based ForwardGro. The Oct. 5 order was not made public and not posted on the commission’s website. A spokeswoman acknowledged the quarantine order only after a reporter asked about it Monday.

Jennifer White, a spokeswoman for the commission, confirmed the existence of the quarantine, which she called an administrative hold, but could not provide additional details, citing an “ongoing investigation.”

“I believe this is the first time this has happened in the state,” said White.

Notice was sent to nearly six dozen licensed dispensaries around the state more than two weeks ago. White said she could not confirm that patients or physicians had been similarly notified.

White said that those messages would be transmitted differently from those sent to dispensaries. She could not immediately confirm that any such notices were sent to patients or physicians.

Identifying patients who have purchased ForwardGro products should be easy, in theory, because the state tracks the sale of each plant and product.

Under state law, all licensees, patients and providers are required to report adverse reactions to the use of medical marijuana products. If an investigation finds that the product or batch failed to meet standards, the state can order a recall.

Patients, caregivers and dispensaries would be notified as part of that recall, and the state requires refunds for unused portions of the recalled drug.

“It’s reasonable to tell patients and physicians that they should stop using it if you’ve gotten to where you tell people to stop selling it,” said Gene Ransom, chief executive officer of chief executive officer with MedChi, the Maryland State Medical Society. “That’s a reasonable thing to do.”

Ransom said he was not aware of any attempts to notify physicians.

Kate Bell, general counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project, said that states with medical cannabis programs could do more to improve best practices when it comes to notifying users of bad products.

“For example, all recalls should be posted in an easy-to-find place on the state regulator’s website, patients should be able to sign up for email alerts about product recalls, and dispensaries could be required to post notices in their establishments if they sold the recalled product,” said Bell.

Bell noted that some states do feature recall information on public websites. Colorado last year issued a recall notice for more than five dozen cannabis products tainted with pesticides. That recall was posted on a Colorado state government website after the products failed testing.

Maryland also requires medical cannabis products to be independently tested.

“I would note that third-party lab testing is relatively new in the history of medical marijuana laws, and some state medical programs still don’t have lab testing at all or are in the process of implementing it,” said Bell. “This is one area where there is still an opportunity for Maryland to be a leader in creating best practices.”

The reason for the quarantine of the ForwardGro product remains unknown.

A complete copy of the message sent to those licensees was not provided to The Daily Record. The portion that was released does not provide details on why the state is placing a hold on ForwardGro’s products.

“Licensees are not to sell or transfer any product on administrative hold,” according to the message. “Please quarantine these products.”

ForwardGro is owned by Gary Mangum, a large contributor to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. Mangum served on the governor’s transition team after Hogan was elected in 2014.

In July, three former employees of ForwardGro filed sworn affidavits with the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission alleging the use of pesticides on the company’s products. The three requested an investigation.

Currently, there are no pesticides permitted for use on medical cannabis in Maryland.

A spokesperson for ForwardGro was not immediately available for comment. In July, a spokeswoman for the company denied the allegations from the former employees, calling them “an attack” on ForwardGro.

In July, the state Department of Agriculture proposed changes that would loosen the rules on pesticides that can be used on medical cannabis. The new rules were part of legislation passed earlier this year by the Maryland General Assembly.

Previously, Maryland banned the use of pesticides on medical cannabis plants but allowed it for use on hard surfaces and for soil sterilization prior to planting.

Industry experts in Maryland say the rules prior to the change in the law were more restrictive than those governing tobacco cultivation in the state.

Under the proposal, the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission would be required to publish an annual list of products approved for use in the state. The commission would also have the ability to remove products from the list if there is evidence that they may harm patients.

White, the commission spokeswoman, declined to say if the hold order on ForwardGro products is related to the request for an investigation by ForwarGro’s former employees.


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