Maryland, like most states, still considers cannabis – more commonly known as marijuana – a controlled dangerous substance subject to strict regulation. Possession of a small amount of marijuana can result in a civil citation and fine. Possession of marijuana in amounts greater than 10 grams or distributing marijuana will result in criminal charges with stiff penalties. Still, Maryland, recognizes the medicinal uses of cannabis.
Beginning with the O’Malley administration in 2014, Maryland changed its laws regarding medical cannabis. The Hogan administration, in 2015, amended these laws to require strict licensing requirements for the implementation of growing, processing, and dispensing facilities in the state along with registration of doctors who prescribe medical cannabis to certified patients. The laws make it more difficult for patients to obtain and for doctors to prescribe cannabis, but these laws are necessary in a day and age when many people now believe that marijuana should be legalized with no restraints on its use. Maryland will now allow cannabis use for medicinal purposes, but like any other drug, cannabis will be tightly controlled.
Beginning in 2015, there were close to 900 applicants for grower, processor, and dispensary licenses in the state. The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC) is currently reviewing all applicants and intends to announce soon which companies will receive the limited number of licenses authorized by law. Not until growers, processors, and dispensaries are licensed will certified patients be able to obtain medical cannabis legally.
Many concerns come from future patients regarding how cannabis will be consumed. Patients will not be allowed to smoke cannabis. Instead, cannabis will be processed so that the active ingredient – THC – will come in the form of oils, extracts, and ingestion via vaporization. Edible forms of cannabis are not authorized by law and will still be illegal. Certified patients can receive a medical cannabis ID card and will be allowed to transport medical cannabis within the state. It will still be illegal to transport cannabis in any form outside of Maryland.
Other concerns come from the local community. Many citizens do not want grow facilities or dispensaries in their backyard. What the public should understand is that the growers will not be harvesting fields of cannabis. No one will be allowed to grow cannabis like farmers do corn. Rather, all growing and processing will be done in an indoor, closed, controlled, and secure facility subject to very tight regulations and oversight by state regulators. Many other drug processing facilities operate in Maryland and cannabis growers and processors will be no different.
Local government may try to implement laws to preclude licensed facilities from operating in their cities, towns, and counties. Proper zoning regulations may be implemented, as with the regulation of other business operations, but local government may not prohibit that which is expressly authorized by Maryland state law. A recent Maryland Attorney General opinion provided to the Maryland senate confirmed the supremacy of state law over local law in this area of regulation.
As Maryland progresses towards the legal growing, processing, and dispensing of cannabis, questions and concerns about the program will increase. In an effort to keep the public informed, the MMCC has set up a website with a host of information for the public. The link is mmcc.maryland.gov.
Everyone should keep one thing in mind – cannabis is and will continue to be a controlled dangerous substance. Possession of cannabis outside of what is allowed under law is and will continue to be illegal. Maryland is not Colorado or Washington.
Steven W. Rakow, Esquire, is a former assistant state’s attorney. His private practice focuses on civil litigation, contracts, construction law, criminal and traffic law, and other general practice matters. He’s a retired Marine officer and has owned several small businesses. He can be reached at 410-600-3075, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through his website www.steverakowlaw.com.