An email from a medical marijuana dispensary owner alerting patients to a state investigation into whether a Maryland cannabis grower used pesticides and warning them of possible harmful side effects has spurred concern throughout the young industry.
The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission took issue with the email in an online bulletin from executive director Joy A. Strand.
“The Commission is aware that a licensed dispensary issued a notification on July 22, 2018 recommending qualifying patients who experience an adverse event to processed products report the adverse event to that dispensary,” Strand wrote in the letter.
That notification was “not accurate,” Strand wrote.
The bulletin informs patients and licensed providers of the process for reporting side effects, which the commission calls “adverse events.”
The bulletin does not specify the dispensary owner who sent the email, but Ashley G. Colen, co-owner of the Ash+Ember dispensary in Centreville on the Eastern Shore, acknowledged it was her.
Colen said she sent the email to inform as many people as she could that the commission was investigating allegations that a medical marijuana grower — ForwardGro — illegally used pesticides in growing cannabis plants that were later harvested for sale to patients.
Representatives with ForwardGro in Anne Arundel County could not be reached for comment.
Three former ForwardGro employees made the claims in sworn allegations sent to the General Assembly by the Maryland Ethical Cannabis Association, a nonprofit that opposes pesticide use in growing the plants.
Colen, president of the association, known as MECA, said she has stopped selling ForwardGro products and said some of her customers reported burning eyes and throats.
But the commission has shown other concerns with MECA. Prior to Colen’s July 22 email, Strand sent a letter to Colen to ask questions about a tool on MECA’s website that allows patients to submit adverse events to the group.
Strand told Colen that she is obligated by state rules to report side effects to the commission, so it may conduct an investigation “without risk of prejudice,” the letter states.
“This solicitation is in direct conflict with the regulations,” Strand wrote of MECA’s online tool.
Colen wrote back saying the reporting tool was an “attempt to organize, funnel, and document all of the patient feedback we have been getting.”
“So many patients are looking for help and direction and none has been given,” wrote Colen, adding that patients who have experienced side effects “have written cannabis off as a viable alternative because of how they feel.”
She recommended that the commission “issue a public service announcement immediately to all patients detailing all associated strains and medical cannabis products linked to this investigation; they should be cautioned to stop using them until the current investigation provides more clarity.”
The investigation into ForwardGro remains ongoing, commission spokeswoman Jennifer White said.
Following the exchange with Strand, Colen sent the July 22 email. In addition to alerting patients to the investigation, it describes chronic pesticide poisoning and encourages patients to report side effects to the commission and to Colen. It also told patients which products the Centreville dispensary was going to stop selling.
White said Strand’s bulletin was meant to clarify the reporting process and to assure participants that all products are tested.
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“While dispensaries across Maryland may receive the same medical cannabis product from a grower or processor, the batch and lot numbers vary across dispensaries,” the bulletin states. “The Commission would also like to remind patients that all cannabis products available for sale in Maryland dispensaries have passed the compliance testing required by the Code of Maryland Regulations.”