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Cure worse than alfliction? [Editorial]

The Aegis

It’s likely that Harford County will see the first medical marijuana dispensaries open within its borders during 2018.

As reported by the Aegis Friday, Four Green Fields LLC, based in Chestertown, has applied to the county to open its dispensary business in a former auto parts store at 3518 Conowingo Road in Street, and RISE Dispensaries has applied to the county to open a dispensary in a former liquor store at 702 Pulaski Highway in Joppa.

Both have met preliminary approvals by the state commission that regulates these businsses, and are being vetted by county government to see that they meet all zoning and business license requirements, according to county spokesprson Cindy Mumby.

Medical marijuana dispensaries would be classified as “retail trade specialty shops” under Harford’s zoning code, the same classification assigned to pharmacies, Mumby said.

We have been and continue to be skeptical about the state legislature’s decision to approve the sale and use of marijuana for medical purposes. Rather than debate marijuana’s efficacy, however, we’ll just say we think the timing is horrible to introduce another drug into our community and others that are already reeling from the impacts of the opioid abuse epidemic.

Nobody has disagreed with the widely circulated premise that the killer opioid epidemic has been fueled in large measure by over prescription and too easy availability of legal pain management drugs. Whether you believe marijuana is a gateway drug to abusing more so-called harder drugs, there is enough evidence over decades of illegal use to suggest it could be.

Maryland’s medical marijuana law is greatly flawed for many reasons, not the least that is not very transparent to the public, as we have opined on this subject before. And, basing the location of the dispensaries where patients who have been qualified by their doctors and the state to purchase the drug on state senate districts has never made any sense, unless, of course, you believe the marketplace has nothing to do with where this drug should be available. The setup is almost a throwback to the liquor dispensary system that operated in Harford County until the last quarter of the 20th century.

State Senate District 35, which includes northern Harford and western Cecil counties, already has one operating dispensary. Nature’s Care & Wellness opened in Perryville in January and has attracted customers from Harford County, according to the operator. Assuming the dispensary in Street receives all the necessary final approvals, it will become District 35’s second.

The proposed Joppa dispensary is in Senate District 7 which western Harford County shares with eastern Baltimore County.

We find it odd indeed that there are no licenses pending before the county, at least, for Senate District 34, which encompasses the most populous area of the county around Bel Air and Abingdon in the Route 24 corridor and Aberdeen and Havre de Grace in the Route 40 corridor. Of course, we also have no way of knowing if the state commission may be reviewing applications for the up to two dispensaries permitted in this district, because the public is not entitled to know such things until after the commission gives a preliminary approval to a license request.

District 34 also encompasses both Harford County hospitals and the large medical offices infrastructure around them, although we suppose it can be argued Perryville is close to the Havre de Grace/Harford Memorial Hospital medical community.

What we do see so far, however, is a trend that continues to reinforce our belief that even if marijuana has the medical benefits its advocates claim, Maryland’s new system of regulation does not give us any confidence this drug is going to be properly controlled and dispensed solely to people who actually need it. Given the experience with the opioid epidemic locally, that’s a very bad thing with potential to do a lot more harm than good.

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