Mary­land pa­tients still wait­ing on med­i­cal mar­i­juana

Cecil Whig - - LOCAL - By KATISHI MAAKE

Cap­i­tal News Ser­vice

— While Mary­land is on pace to have one of the slow­est roll­outs of med­i­cal mar­i­juana in the coun­try, pa­tients across the state must skirt the law if they want to treat them­selves.

It has been more than 900 days since for­mer Gov. Martin O’Mal­ley signed the bill le­gal­iz­ing med­i­cal mar­i­juana in the state.

Dis­pen­saries are an­tic­i­pated to open by next sum­mer, but le­gal fights with the Natalie M. LaPrade Mary­land Med­i­cal Cannabis Com­mis­sion over li­censes to grow the plant has many con­cerned that ac­cess will keep pa­tients wait­ing longer.

One com­pany that ap­plied for a grow­ing li­cense but was de­nied has filed suit against the com­mis­sion, with two oth­ers plan­ning to do so, all say­ing the li­cens­ing process was un­fair and im­proper.

And the Leg­isla­tive Black Cau­cus, con­cerned about a lack of mi­nor­ity own­er­ship among pre­lim­i­nary li­censees, plans to in­tro­duce emer­gency leg­is­la­tion in the next Gen­eral As­sem­bly ses­sion call­ing for the com­mis­sion to restart the process.

While state of­fi­cials grap­ple with who should grow, process and sell the drug, some Mary­land pa­tients are suf­fer­ing — or med­i­cat­ing them­selves out­side the law.

“I was 26 years old be­fore I tried pot for the first time, and it was strictly as pain man­age­ment,” said Rachel Perry-Crook, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Mary­land NORML, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that pro­motes mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion.

Perry-Crook, now 30, said she has used mar­i­juana for four years to help al­le­vi­ate pain from a num­ber of dif­fer­ent ail­ments, in­clud­ing un­der­go­ing four back surg­eries and a spinal fu­sion. She has a con­nec­tive tis­sue dis­or­der known as Eh­ler­sDan­los syn­drome, she said, that causes hy­per­mo­bil­ity, leav­ing her body in con­stant pain.

She said she turned to mar­i­juana af­ter years of tak­ing a pre­scrip­tion opi­oid med­i­ca­tion meant to treat se­vere pain.

“I was tak­ing Di­lau­did for years — very high dosages of Di­lau­did to the point where it would put a lot of

AN­NAPO­LIS

Pa­tients in Mary­land are still wait­ing for med­i­cal mar­i­juana, more than 900 days af­ter it was le­gal­ized in the state.

peo­ple in a coma,” Per­ryCrook told the Univer­sity of Mary­land’s Cap­i­tal News Ser­vice. “I looked at my­self one day and I re­al­ized I was go­ing to turn into a junkie if I didn’t find some­thing else to man­age my pain.”

Push­back against the com­mis­sion

The state granted pre-ap­proval to 15 pro­ces­sors and 15 grow­ers in Au­gust.

Med­i­cal cannabis pro­ducer Green Thumb In­dus­triesMary­land, based in Prince George’s County, filed a law­suit against the com­mis­sion on Sept. 19. The com­pany said it was on the list of 15 pre-ap­proved grow­ers in July, then sub­se­quently and un­fairly re­moved when the rank­ing process was changed to fac­tor in the geo­graphic di­ver­sity of the ap­pli­cants.

“The path we’re pur­su­ing now is a last re­sort; we feel like we’ve ex­hausted all other reme­dies,” Pete Kadens, CEO of GTI-Mary­land, said dur­ing a press con­fer­ence late last month. “The last thing we want to do … is fur­ther dis­tress sick pa­tients.”

A lit­tle more than a week

later, an­other re­jected grower, Mary­land Cul­ti­va­tion and Pro­cess­ing, pe­ti­tioned to join the law­suit, which was filed in the Bal­ti­more City Cir­cuit Court.

Ad­di­tion­ally, mem­bers of the state’s Leg­isla­tive Black Cau­cus, among oth­ers, have also taken is­sue with the lack of racial di­ver­sity among the 30 pre-ap­proved pro­ces­sors and grow­ers.

“We are not go­ing to let any­body get li­censes un­der the sce­nario that ex­ists now,” Del­e­gate Cheryl Glenn (DBal­ti­more City) said dur­ing a Leg­isla­tive Black Cau­cus meet­ing on Oct. 6.

Al­ter­na­tive Medicine Mary­land, which is ma­jor­ity African-Amer­i­can owned, was also de­nied a li­cense by the com­mis­sion. The group will file a law­suit in the com­ing weeks de­mand­ing the com­mis­sion stop the li­cens­ing process and man­date racial di­ver­sity, ac­cord­ing to John Pica, an at­tor­ney for the group.

“Some­times I won­der if our ap­pli­ca­tion was even re­viewed,” he said. “AfricanAmer­i­can com­pa­nies have been stiff-armed in this in- dus­try.”

Some in­dus­try ad­vo­cates are con­cerned that the le­gal bat­tles, though valid, will mean sick pa­tients are left wait­ing for even longer.

“We are very con­cerned with the lack of di­ver­sity that is in the cur­rent preap­provals,” said Kate Bell, leg­isla­tive coun­sel with the Mar­i­juana Pol­icy Project, a cannabis ad­vo­cacy group. “But we have to re­mem­ber that — fun­da­men­tally — this is about pro­tect­ing sick pa­tients.” Where Mary­land stands On April 14, 2014, Mary­land joined the 25 states and Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to le­gal­ize med­i­cal mar­i­juana. Of the three states that passed the leg­is­la­tion in 2014, Mary­land is the only one where pa­tients do not yet have le­gal ac­cess to cannabis.

The com­mis­sion plans to ad­min­is­ter pa­tient cards six months prior to the an­tic­i­pated open­ing of dis­pen­saries, ac­cord­ing to its web­site.

Mike Liszewski, gov­ern­ment af­fairs di­rec­tor for Amer­i­cans for Safe Ac­cess, said Mary­land is tak­ing longer than most states to bring med­i­cal mar­i­juana to its pa­tients. While he pre­dicts pa­tients will be able to re­ceive le­gal medicine by mid to late 2017, he said ad­di­tional law­suits and in­junc­tions could push that back fur­ther.

Hawaii’s June 2000 med­i­cal mar­i­juana law al­lowed pa­tients to use and cul­ti­vate the plant with a doc­tor’s pre­scrip­tion. The state ap­proved an amend­ment in July 2015 that al­lowed dis­pen­saries to open in July 2016 — only one year later, ac­cord­ing to the Hawaii De­part­ment of Health’s web­site.

States such as Ne­vada and Ver­mont also did not have dis­pen­saries avail­able from the on­set but did al­low pa­tients with registry cards to legally grow mar­i­juana for treat­ment.

“If pa­tients were al­lowed to cul­ti­vate their own medicine (in Mary­land), you wouldn’t have pa­tients wait­ing and suf­fer­ing,” Liszewski said. “Our or­ga­ni­za­tion is try­ing to get to a so­lu­tion that has the dis­pen­saries open­ing up as soon as pos­si­ble.”

A 2011 amend­ment to Ver­mont’s 2004 med­i­cal mar­i­juana leg­is­la­tion es­tab­lished dis­pen­saries that are per­mit­ted to both cul­ti­vate and dis­trib­ute the drug. In Mary­land, grow­ers and dis­pen­saries must be sep­a­rate busi­nesses, an ex­tra layer of bu­reau­cracy.

The 30 pre-ap­proved grow­ers and pro­ces­sors are in the se­cond stage of the li­cens­ing process where they must un­dergo back­ground checks, in­spec­tions and prove fi­nan­cial com­pe­tency.

Pre­lim­i­nary, or stage one, ap­proval of dis­pen­saries is forth­com­ing, ac­cord­ing to the com­mis­sion.

Liszewski said re­mov­ing statu­tory and reg­u­la­tory caps that re­strict the num­ber of grow­ers and pro­ces­sors per­mit­ted un­der law could al­le­vi­ate the grievances re­gard­ing geo­graphic di­ver­sity and pro­mote greater com­pe­ti­tion within the in­dus­try.

Perry-Crook says the leg­is­la­ture needs to di­ver­sify the pool of ap­pli­cants and re­view county-level zon­ing pro­vi­sions that do not al­low grow­ing, pro­cess­ing or vend­ing in com­mer­cial ar­eas. She said these pro­vi­sions re­strict pa­tients’ ac­cess to mar­i­juana since they may have to travel far­ther re­ceive it.

“The sup­ply is not go­ing to meet the de­mand with how things are laid out right now,” Perry-Crook said.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF RACHEL PERRY-COOK

Rachel Perry-Crook, 30, of Bal­ti­more, has been us­ing mar­i­juana for four years to treat her Eh­lers-Dan­los syn­drome, a painful con­nec­tive tis­sue dis­or­der.

CE­CIL WHIG FILE PHOTO

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