Del. Cheryl Glenn, D-District 45, is a passionate advocate for the therapeutic use of medical marijuana in Maryland. She sponsored the medical marijuana legislation that was signed into law in April, and the Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Marijuana Commission, which is charged with writing the regulations for Maryland's nascent marijuana industry, is named after Glenn's late mother.
"I will not be satisfied until we have a bona fide medical marijuana program up and running for the people of Maryland," she said.
As an advocate for access, Glenn was none too pleased to see the fee schedule the commission is proposing for the licensing of growers, dispensaries or patients and caregivers, the main actors in the medical marijuana program as specified in law.
According to the fee schedule posted on the commission's website Wednesday, individuals or groups applying to be one of Maryland's 15 licensed medical marijuana growers will pay a $6,000 application fee. Approved growers will pay a biennial $250,000 licensing fee.
The anticipated 44 dispensaries, meanwhile, will pay a $5,000 application fee and a biennial $80,000 licensing fee, while medical marijuana patients will pay $100 on a sliding scale for their medical marijuana program identification cards and $50 for a replacement ID.
Glenn believes those fees will lead to marijuana prices that are too high for many patients.
"Who can afford $250,000?" Glenn said. "I think that is going to play to the big conglomerates and that's not what this is supposed to be about. We want a diverse group of dispensaries and growers so that we can have access and so it won't be expensive for the patients. As a grower or dispensary, if I am kicking out $250,000, I want to get that money back in some kind of way."
Although the commission voted unanimously to approve the fee schedule at its Tuesday meeting, Glenn's concern was echoed by one commissioner, Deborah Miran, who said that while she would vote to include the fees in the regulations, she wanted it on the record that she felt the fees could inhibit potential growers and dispensaries from applying to the program.
"I think that in some cases — for smaller growers, smaller operations — I think [the fees] could be prohibitively high," Miran said. Her comment was greeted with applause from the gallery.
According to commission Chairman Paul Davies, however, the fee schedule represents the lowest fees possible to allow the system to operate.
"The finance committee, with the help of the comptroller's office, spent an enormous amount of time not only on the budget that we require, but reviewing the fee schedules from other states with medical marijuana and they felt that we were in line with other states," Davies said.
The projected annual operating budget of the commission is $3 million, according to the Tuesday testimony of Sharon Bloom, acting executive director of the commission. The commission relies entirely on self-generated funds, receiving no money from the state, and the fees collected will be necessary to support the commission's regulatory operations, including an electronic database for doctors, patients, dispensaries and law enforcement.
According to Glenn, however, the commission's projected budget is based on what she believes is a set of onerous and overdue — the commission was supposed to turn in a final draft of the regulations to Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary Joshua Sharfstein by Sept. 15 — regulations she believes could be streamlined to be made less expensive and easier to implement.
In fact, Glenn's largest concern is that the complexity of the regulations will lead to long delays in getting marijuana into the hands of patients, a fact to which she has testified before the commission on numerous occasions.
"None of the legislators anticipated this kind of delay with the commission," she said. "I am frustrated because I don't have a real good sense of when these regulations will be finished."
At best, the commission is roughly a month away from submitting a final set of draft regulations to Secretary Sharfstein, according to Davies. After that, a formal regulatory process within the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene could take months, and with the time needed for the grower and dispensary application process, it's anyone's guess when the first patient will take the first dose of marijuana.
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It was in the spirit of expediting this process that the commission decided to continue working past the Sept. 15 deadline, according to Davies.
"We elected to wait until Oct.16 — and that's not even a set figure — before we turn in the regulations," he said. "We think there was significant public commentary [on the regulations] and the commission wanted to react to public comment in this informal stage before it is submitted to Sharfstein and the state regulatory process."
Once submitted to Sharfstein, Davies said any public commentary that necessitated a change would send the regulations back to the commission, requiring them to start the process all over again. That's something he would like to avoid.
"We are working diligently to try and expedite the process. At the same time, we want to get everything right the first time around. Having our regulations rejected by the state would put us back many more months than getting it right the first time," he said. "It's an incredibly, incredibly complex process. I had no idea how developing these regulations would be as complex as it has been."
The complexity of the work is something that Glenn as a legislator understands well, and she greatly appreciates the work of the commissioners, who are unpaid volunteers. At the same time, she hopes they will focus more on expediting the regulatory process than getting every detail right at the start.
"You can always come back and change and alter the regulations, just like we can do that with legislation," Glenn said. "Let's not let the perfect get in the way of the good ... let's get the program underway. Let's see what works and doesn't work."
Reach staff writer Jon Kelvey at 410-857-3317 or email@example.com.