State officials block sale of medical marijuana products from grower Forwardgro amid investigation

State authorities continue to investigate products produced by the medical marijuana grower ForwardGro but won’t provide details about the inquiry or when it is expected to end.

The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission had confirmed in July that it was looking into the grower, whose co-owner is connected politically to Gov. Larry Hogan, for potentially improper use of pesticides on its products. But officials declined to say Monday if that was behind the “administrative hold” that prevents the sale of ForwardGro products.

That three-paragraph order, sent to the dispensaries Oct. 7, said: “Please quarantine these products. Follow up instructions will be forthcoming in the future.”

The commission spokeswoman, Jennifer B. White, declined to elaborate.

“We are unable to comment while there is an active investigation,” White said. “And, there is an active investigation.”

There is no public information provided on the state commission’s website, and it’s unclear how many of the state’s 69 licensed dispensaries were selling the products.

The lack of information is concerning, said Evan Norris, a spokesman for the Maryland Ethical Cannabis Association, which initially sparked the state’s pesticide investigation after hearing from users about irritating effects from plants that they believed contained pesticides.

Dispensaries don’t know what to tell their customers, Norris said, and he doesn’t believe the tens of thousands of consumers in Maryland have been notified about the current investigation. Customers would only know not to use their products if their dispensaries informed them or they found out from a news source, he said.

“We have an issue with them not telling the patients,” he said. “There is a real lack of information.”

Norris said some dispensaries likely have large stores that they don’t know when or if they might be able to sell, he added. He said his group has not gotten an update about the pesticide investigation and doesn’t know if the current order is related.

ForwardGro has denied illegal use of pesticides in growing cannabis plants. Three former employees at the Anne Arundel County growing facility made the charges in sworn allegations sent to the General Assembly.

The legislature had adopted an amendment earlier this year to allow for some use of pesticides, though it’s unclear if they were the ones the company was alleged to have used.

In a statement provided to The Baltimore Sun though spokesperson Henry Fawell, the grower said Monday: “ForwardGro's products are on administrative hold pending further investigation by the commission and we are cooperating with them. All ForwardGro's products have passed pesticide testing by an independent, state-approved lab, and ForwardGro remains committed to providing patients in Maryland with quality medical cannabis.”

The company said it was unable to provide further comment while the investigation was underway.

ForwardGro, one of 15 growers in the state, is co-owned by Gary Mangum, a prominent supporter of Hogan who served on the governor’s inaugural committee and transition team.

The investigation is the latest stumble for the industry, launched less than a year ago after many years of delays in getting sales of medical marijuana off the ground in the state.

The system the state uses to automatically track medical marijuana use for dispensaries and consumers in real time became overwhelmed over the summer and temporarily shut off. That required dispensaries to use a cumbersome process to check clients’ identification and how much marijuana people could buy based on their monthly limits.

The tool had been troublesome for dispensaries to use for some time, and officials had said consumers were not likely to regain use of the popular service any time soon. The commission posted some exceptions to rules on Oct. 25. White, the agency spokeswoman, said there have been no interruptions since then.

meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

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