After months of debate, and a fair amount of frustration the medical marijuana commission finally approved its draft regulations. A few deadlines were pushed back, and licensing fees may be higher than some investors had hoped, but in the end Maryland is on track to have a functioning medical marijuana program within the next year. Wait scratch that. Within the next two years. Maybe. See the program’s draft regulations may be out of the committee’s tight grasp, but now they still must be approved by the state health secretary, and a panel of lawmakers including state senators and delegates. Both the secretary and the lawmakers could propose modifications to the regulations, which of course would cause further delays. Only when these two parties finally approve the regulations can potential growers and dispensary owners begin to file their applications, and the real logjam may occur at this point.
There is no current estimate on how long it will take the committee to decide whose applications are worthy of licenses. High fees and uncertain time frames have undoubtedly dissuaded some potential growers and distributors, but considering the potential profits there still will be numerous applications to consider. In a perfect scenario for program administrators there would be as many qualified applications as available licenses. Though in reality the powers that be will be forced to make some tough decisions, and who knows what sort of legal action may ensue if a well-funded and motivated group is shut out of the party. Even if the committee moves swiftly to issue licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana there is a whole other side of the equation that must also fall into place. The doctors who will prescribe the medical pot are rarely mentioned in news articles and policy debates, which focus mostly on the growers and distributors. But none of this business occurs without the doctors, who must also apply for licenses to participate in the program. It will take time for program administrators to approve and educate these doctors, who generally will have far less experience with marijuana than the potential investors.
There is really no accurate estimate on when this will all come together. It seems like a functioning medical marijuana program in 2015 is unlikely, and that the first half of 2016 seems more realistic. Not that we feel bad for the growers and distributors that are primed to rake in millions, but this certainly has to be a frustrating proposition for those who have laid their money on the line only to be forced to wait two plus years for a revenue stream. But barring some drastic change of course they will be rewarded for their patience. Growing and selling medical marijuana is already a highly lucrative industry in the 23 states where it is legal, and Maryland should be no different. In addition the growers and distributors who receive licenses to sell medical pot are bound to be first in line to receive retail licenses when pot is legalized down the road. Medical is big business, but retail marijuana has an exponentially higher profit potential due to a massive potential client base. And regardless of which political party is in power in Annapolis legalization will eventually become a reality, as the population continues to support it. The Blog will continue to follow the progress of the medical marijuana program, and it goes without saying that a handful of follow up articles will be posted in the coming months. For questions or concerns for a criminal defense lawyer about a specific criminal case, contact Benjamin Herbst at 410-207-2598.