Up to six medical marijuana dispensaries could be established in Harford County, but the actual number, as well as their specific locations, will not be made public until the state commission regulating the fledgling industry approves their licenses.
Dispensary locations are posted on the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission’s website only after the panel approves the license, Executive Director Patrick Jameson said following a meeting of the commission Monday in Bel Air.
Commission staff learn the location of the growing or processing facility, or the dispensary, once the applicant files for an inspection, according to Jameson.
The applicants must pass a state inspection of their facilities — which are subject to municipal or county zoning approvals — as well as pass criminal background checks and reviews of their finances and business plans and operating procedures. They must also show they have legal control of the property for their facilities, either through a lease or purchase.
The applicants must show they have received local approvals for their facilities, according to Jameson.
“Zoning is a critical thing that has to be taken care of,” he said.
Those approvals are the responsibility of local governments, however.
“We have nothing to do with local zoning,” Jameson said. “That’s all a city, municipality or county’s decision.”
The commission approved five growers and processors, as well as one laboratory for analysis of the products, for licenses during its session Monday.
Three growers, including Shore Natural Rx LLC, of Worcester County, SunMed Growers LLC, of Cecil County, and Grow West MD LLC, of Garrett County, were approved.
SunMed’s growing facility is in Warwick, which is in southern Cecil County, according to the company’s Facebook page.
Two processors, Chesapeake Alternatives LLC, of Queen Anne’s County, and Pro Green Medical LLC, of Frederick County, were also approved.
The commission also approved a license for Advent Laboratories Inc. to operate an independent testing laboratory in Baltimore County.
Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler represents law enforcement on the commission.
Gahler said later that he still opposes recreational use of marijuana, but he wants to be part of ensuring the medical marijuana industry is properly regulated.
“I have said I want to do it the right way, so I guess this is my challenge” to make sure it is done the right way,” he said.
Up to two standalone dispensaries — not including those operated by growers — can be established in each of Maryland’s 47 state senatorial districts.
Senate District 7 covers eastern Baltimore and western Harford counties, District 34 covers central and southern Harford and District 35 covers eastern Harford and western Cecil County.
Six dispensary applicants, or two per district, have been pre-approved for the districts that cover Harford County.
No growers or processors have been pre-approved for Harford, according to the commission.
Pre-approval means the applicants filed their initial application and passed preliminary inspections of their finances and backgrounds, which clears them to move to the second — and final — stage involving more intense reviews of finances, the backgrounds of the applicants and their business associates and employees and facility inspections.
Applicants have up to 365 days after they are pre-approved, to get their operations and facilities ready for final approvals, according to commission staff.
“Once these companies, the growers, processors and dispensaries, become licensed it is incumbent upon them to operate with the highest ethical standards and create and process and dispense the best pharmaceutical-grade medicine possible for our patients,” Jameson said as he delivered his executive director’s report to the commission.
Dispensary applicants have until early December to get ready. Only one applicant, out of 102 pre-approved, has received a dispensary license so far.
The Wellness Institute of Maryland, of Frederick County, got its license approved in early July, The Baltimore Sun reported.
“The commission is moving expeditiously to get the industry up and running,” Jameson said after Monday’s meeting.
J. Darrell Carrington, a medical cannabis industry consultant and lobbyist, noted it wouldn’t make sense for applicants to announce their locations until they are approved for a state license.
Carrington, who attended and spoke during the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting, is the medical cannabis director for Greenwill Consulting Group LLC, of Annapolis.
“We didn’t want companies to have to go through the expense of securing a lease or purchasing a building and then finding out they didn’t actually get a [license],” he said after the meeting.
Carrington worked with state legislators, as the head of the Maryland Cannabis Industry Association, when the laws governing medical marijuana were being developed.
The state legalized medical marijuana in 2013, but it came with an exacting regulatory process.
Carrington said the one-year period after pre-approval gives applicants “ample time” to secure a lease or complete the build-out of their facilities.
Jameson also addressed, during his director’s report, public expectations about the supply of medical cannabis once the industry is up and running.
“While I have no intention of speaking for industry operators, I must reiterate this is a new industry in the state of Maryland, and because this industry is in its infancy, no one should have any expectation that the market will be fully supplied at the outset of the program,” he said.
The commission took public comments on a proposal to expand the number of pre-approvals for processors beyond the currently mandated 15.
The commission did not make a decision Monday, though. Chairman Brian Lopez said the commission will “probably” make a decision at its next meeting, scheduled Nov. 16 at the University of Maryland Medical School in Baltimore.
Monday’s public speakers included licensees and industry advocates.
“It was always the intention of the General Assembly for there to be an unlimited number of processors,” Carrington, the industry lobbyist, said.
He noted allowing more pre-approvals “will increase significantly the minority participation in this particular program.”
Jake Van Wingerden, owner of SunMed and chairman of the Maryland Wholesale Medical Cannabis Trade Association, argued against additional licenses, though.
“We believe it is premature to add any additional licenses at this time before a marketplace has even been established,” he said.