No medical marijuana dispensaries have come to Harford County yet, but two companies have applied for county government approval to open their respective businesses in Joppa and Street, plus a dispensary has already opened just across the Susquehanna River in Perryville.
Dispensaries must have a state license before they open and two dispensaries are allowed in each of Maryland’s 47 state Senate districts.
“Certainly any business that comes to Harford County has to meet all of our local requirements, and these businesses will be held to that standard, as any other,” county government spokesperson Cindy Mumby said in a recent interview.
The pace of approvals of dispensary licenses by the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission has picked up in recent months, with 39 licenses issued as of late January, compared to one as of mid-August 2017, when the commission met in the Harford County Council chambers in Bel Air.
The commission, which holds its meetings in different parts of the state, approved nine licenses during its most recent meeting, Feb. 22, in Baltimore. They were for businesses in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Montgomery County as well as Southern Maryland and Worcester County on the Eastern Shore, according to Jennifer White, director of communications for the MMCC.
The commission has granted pre-approval to 102 companies applying for dispensary licenses, meaning they have submitted applications and passed preliminary inspections of their finances and criminal background checks, according to commission officials.
Before a license is granted, applicants must pass a detailed inspection of their backgrounds and backgrounds of their business associates, plus a review of their finances, business plans and facilities.
The commission also approves licenses for medical marijuana growers and processors. No companies have been pre-approved for growing or processing operations in Harford, according to the commission website.
Harford County is covered by three Senate districts: District 7, represented by Sen. J.B. Jennings, District 34, by Sen. Robert Cassilly, and District 35 by Sen. Wayne Norman. All three are Republicans.
Nature’s Care & Wellness opened in Perryville, part of the northern Cecil County section of Norman’s district, in January. A second dispensary is slated for the northern Harford portion, pending county and state approval.
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, according to Mumby.
RISE Dispensaries has applied to the county to open a dispensary in a former liquor store at 702 Pulaski Highway in Joppa, Mumby said. That location, on the north side of Route 40, is in District 7, according to an online map of Maryland’s legislative districts.
Medical marijuana dispensaries would be classified as “retail trade specialty shops” under Harford’s zoning code, the same classification assigned to pharmacies, Mumby said.
Linda Condon, director of the Nature’s Care & Wellness dispensary in Perryville, said a number of patients have expressed gratitude the facility is open. They can obtain products to treat conditions ranging from restless leg syndrome to chronic pain and anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, she said.
Condon said many patients are trying to get off prescription pain medications. She said many have not used cannabis before and the stigma around it “really needs to be disrupted.”
“There are patients who are looking for alternatives and are seeing success, and are grateful that they are now able to function and have a better quality of life,” Condon said during a recent telephone interview.
One Nature’s Care & Wellness patient, Bel Air resident Al Zuro Sr., received his card from the state allowing him to buy medical cannabis from an approved dispensary last October. He did not get any products until a few weeks ago, however, because Nature’s Care is the first dispensary which opened relatively close to where he lives.
“That was the first time I was able to buy medical cannabis here in Maryland without going all the way over to the Washington, D.C., suburbs,” Zuro, 71, said.
Nature’s Care & Wellness opened Jan. 23; the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission approved its dispensary license Dec. 14, 2017, Condon said.
Patients must be registered with the state commission and have written authorization from their medical provider before they can purchase medical cannabis from a licensed dispensary, according to the commission website.
“As a dispensary we are required to verify that a patient has completed that certification process,” Condon said.
Condon’s nephew, Robert Windsor, owns the dispensary, which is in a shopping center off Route 40. It is one of two approved for Cecil County, along with PharmKent LLC, at 330 E. Pulaski Highway in Elkton, according to the commission website.
Zuro said he uses cannabis extract, inhaled through a vaporizer pen, to treat pain from herniated discs in his spine. He said he was diagnosed with the herniated discs around 2014 and took prescription medication for the pain. He said the medications were “just awful,” with various side effects.
Zuro said he stopped taking the pills in recent months and decided to live with his pain.
He said he stopped the medication “because of the adverse reaction to them and I didn’t want to be one of those people up on the billboard that said I was an overdose victim.That scares the crap out of me when I see those things.”
A running tally of people who have suffered suspected opioid and heroin overdoses, including those who die, is kept on billboards at Harford County Sheriff’s Office and municipal police buildings. There have been 49 overdoses, nine of them fatal, so far this year, according to Sheriff’s Office statistics.
Harford County Executive Barry Glassman announced during his State of the County Address in January that the county plans to sue opioid manufacturers and distributors. Other counties in Maryland have filed suit or are preparing similar suits, as addiction to over-prescribed painkillers has been blamed as a factor in a growing heroin addiction crisis throughout the state and nation.
“It’s very pleasant,” Zuro said of medical cannabis. “Besides relieving the pain, I feel pretty nice.”
He said he must cover the cost — $90 per extract cartridge — out of his pocket since medical insurers will not pay for medical cannabis.
“I’m giving the medical cannabis a try,” Zuro said. “I’m keeping my fingers crossed. So far, it’s helping me.”
While his colleagues in the Maryland Senate, such as Jennings and Norman, have expressed their support for medical cannabis dispensaries, Harford Del. Rick Impallaria is still concerned about potential health and legal risks.
Impallaria, a Republican who represents District 7, introduced House Bill 892 Feb. 5 to regulate advertising for medical cannabis and require the Attorney General’s Office to notify the public of legal risks involved with possessing marijuana if there are any changes to state laws on the drug, including legalizing its use.
“Regardless of the change in Maryland law, a person is still subject to arrest [by the federal government] for activity relating to marijuana ... especially if the activity occurs on federal property or in federal facilities such as military bases, federal offices, federal parks, airports and marine terminals,” according to the draft legislation.
The bill also requires advertisements for medical cannabis to be regulated under the same federal standards for tobacco products.
The bill did not make it out of the House Judiciary Committee, Impallaria said Wednesday night. He said he learned that night that the committee had voted it down following a Feb. 20 hearing, despite support from all Republican and a few Democratic committee members.
“How could you be against just giving people the facts on the use of marijuana and restricting the advertising on marijuana, the same as it is on cigarettes?” he asked.
Impallaria remained optimistic, though, saying he brought the issue “to light” and that a Democratic legislator — in the majority Democrat General Assembly — could file a similar bill next year.