Articles Posted in Marijuana

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weed4-300x194Almost five years ago Maryland residents began hearing talk that a state sponsored medical marijuana program was on the horizon. Despite numerous states already having established successful medical cannabis programs, our elected officials decided to pave their own way and craft a program that was unique to Maryland. These lawmakers eventually passed a severely underwhelming medical cannabis bill that only allowed academic institutions to administer the program. To the surprise of approximately nobody there weren’t any takers of this ridiculous platform requiring universities to dedicate time and money to study something that they already knew the answer (marijuana helps people). After a wasted year lawmakers once again convened and passed laws establishing an actual functioning program that would be run by the private sector and heavily policed by the state. A commission was formed to craft rules and regulations, and eventually to set up procedure for grower and dispensary applications.

On paper everything seemed in place, but actually building the program from the ground up proved more difficult for all parties involved (despite the abundance of information and resources from other states). The commission was underfunded and appointed members lacked expertise and experience, which led to delays and disgruntled applicants. Fast-forward to today and all the medical marijuana investors are still waiting to make their first buck from the program, and most will never recoup their losses. Now though, the day is finally imminent when the first legal marijuana transaction will take place.

The founder of a dispensary in Frederick was recently on record stating he believes his shop will begin selling marijuana by the first week in December, which is hard to believe for those that have been following the progress (or lack thereof) of the program. On the other hand, the day has to come eventually so why not be optimistic about at early holiday season? While the dispensary founder was cautious to put a guarantee on this statement he did add that his staff of ten is ready to serve the patients who are undoubtedly growing impatient. Owners of another dispensary in Salisbury are also confident of a 2017 opening, though this Wicomico County shop is not expecting a grand opening next week.

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marijuana-1281540_1280-300x225Medical marijuana grow facilities across Maryland have been up and running for weeks, yet as of now these growers are still not able to sell their product to the distributors that will ultimately provide to patients. One Anne Arundel County grower has already harvested a batch of pot for testing purposes and is primed to ramp up production when the time comes, but when is the time actually coming? This is a question four years in the making, and each time an answer appears on the horizon new hurdles must be cleared. While it is unlikely that the entire program is in jeopardy, the coming weeks will certainly bring a few sleepless nights for the workers who put in hundreds of hours and the investors who put up millions in order to make medical marijuana a reality here in Maryland.

There are at least three current issues threatening smooth operation of the state’s medical cannabis program, with two being on the state and local level and one on the federal level. The first issue is where to put all the dispensaries. The locations of the grow facilities have been set for months, and are scattered around the state in discrete industrial locations. These facilities are not open to the public, and will do their best to be out of sight and out of mind. The dispensaries are a different story, as they must be in areas that are accessible for the registered patients to pick up their medicine. The problem is that many residents in areas of proposed dispensaries are speaking out as to their disapproval of having medical pot shops in their neighborhoods. While these complaints lack a any sort of factual and rational basis (for example some citizens are concerned that dispensaries will bring crime and loitering riff raff) they are causing a stir that is being heard by state and local politicians. The program cannot function properly without numerous dispensaries to handle the high demand from patients.  A limited amount of dispensaries will severely disrupt the flow of the product from the grower to the patient, and will render the program relatively useless. The growers need the dispensaries as much as the dispensaries need the growers, so the hope is that all the zoning issues are sorted out quickly.

Another state based issue threatening the program is a recent decision by a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge that the case involving the disgruntled growers that were denied licenses will proceed to trial. The state had filed a motion to dismiss, but not surprisingly the judge ruled that it was a case left for the fact finder (judge or jury) to decide. A trial date has not been set, but the medical cannabis program will be allowed to operate while the case is pending.

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weed4-300x194After enduring numerous delays and costly blunders the state medical marijuana program is now in the final stages of preparation. Over the last few months most of the news headlines concerning medical pot were focused on the potential growers. These grow companies raised millions of dollars apiece and their investors included prominent and powerful state residents. Needless to say there was a lot at stake when the commission hired a Towson University group to choose the best fifteen, and it was hardly a surprise when those that didn’t make the cut took their fight to the media and the courts. Despite pending litigation by a couple of disgruntled grow companies the other fifteen pre-approved growers are moving forward with their plans to plant their first seeds. Many of these multimillion-dollar companies are still awaiting final licenses, but there do not appear to be any imminent hurdles on the growing side of the Maryland medical cannabis operation. However, there are some new issues popping up on the dispensary side.

There has not been a great deal of talk about the hundred plus companies that have been preliminarily approved to sell medical marijuana to patients in need. This is partly due to the simple fact of timing; there was no point in dwelling on the details of dispensing until it was certain there would be a product to dispense. But now that the growers are in place the attention has shifted to the shops that will soon open for business throughout the state, and not all of the attention is positive. Residents in the area of a potential Baltimore County dispensary expressed concern over the location of a one future shop, and politicians responded by imposing new restrictions that could jeopardize the location of this business. A similar pattern of events has taken place in Anne Arundel County, Queen Anne’s County and Baltimore City. Many of the residents who have complained about the location of dispensaries support the medical marijuana program as a whole, but they just don’t want the stores in their neighborhood. The problem is that dispensaries have to go somewhere, and you can’t just make patients drive out to the boonies or into high crime areas to buy their medication.

As with most complaints about medical or recreational marijuana the latest concerns over the location of dispensaries are naïve and ignorant. The detractors assume that pot shops will bring in riff raff and crime to their neighborhoods, though the only support to this argument is the baseless stigma surrounding marijuana. Anyone who has traveled to areas around the country where pot is legal can attest to the fact that the dispensaries are highly sophisticated and secure operations, and their clientele just want to get in, buy their product and leave. You rarely, if ever, see anyone loitering around a dispensary, and the storefronts are clean and professional. Contrast this with local liquor stores that actually do bring in the riff raff, and are prime targets for robberies inside and outside of the store. Once the shops are open for business the stigma should start to erode, though realistically it will take a generation before marijuana is accepted not only as an effective medical product, but also as a safer recreational alternative to alcohol. As for dispensary locations, we do not feel this will ultimately cause additional delays to the program though the Blog will post an article in the future if this sentiment changes.

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marijuana-1281540_1280-300x225A recent Maryland Court of Appeals order likely prevented months of further delays to the medical marijuana program, and now registered patients may have access to cannabis by the end of the summer. The high court order blocked a Baltimore City judge from conducting a hearing about whether to stop the state medical cannabis commission from issuing more final grow licenses. Only one of the fifteen approved growers currently has a final license that allows the legal commencement of the cultivation process. The other fourteen were not able to secure a final license under the Baltimore City Circuit Court judge’s temporary restraining order, which was requested by minority owned grow companies that were not one of the fifteen to receive preliminary licenses to operate. The restraining order was supposed to expire on the date of the hearing, but now there will be no hearing and the order has expired.

The Court of Appeals did not release a full opinion on the matter, but rather stayed the restraining order portion of the lawsuit that is challenging whether the licensing process took race into account as required by law. The disgruntled growers requested the restraining order after arguing they would suffer greater harm should the medical marijuana program be allowed to proceed before their lawsuit is resolved. The Baltimore judge had barred the fourteen growers awaiting final licenses from participating in the restraining order hearing, which raised issues of fairness and standing, and may have prompted the Court of Appeals to issue the emergency order. Another issue the high court likely considered was the amount of money the licensed growers invested and stood to lose if the growing process was halted indefinitely. Lawyers argued that the companies who received preliminary licenses invested over $150 million in final preparation to begin growing and distributing.

Over the last four years most of the news headlines pertaining to medical marijuana here in Maryland have focused on incompetence, delays and corruption. News of the recent order by the Court of Appeals appears to buck this trend, and we could finally be approaching the home stretch where the first dose of medical cannabis reaches a patient in need. Estimates of the program officially becoming active in late summer are cautiously optimistic, but at this point there does not appear to be any impending issues that could threaten this timeline. There is always the risk that the federal government could somehow get involved, though this appears unlikely. The state’s highest court has spoken rather loudly that it believes medical marijuana should proceed without further delay. Whether the program could abruptly be halted sometime again in the future is another question, and one that will constantly be hanging over the heads of the licensed growers, distributors and patients. It has been argued that the licensing process was unconstitutional at its core, and this issue will be resolved in court or by way of negotiated settlement. A settlement however would likely have to involve the legislature granting additional license to the aggrieved parties, which is a long shot and would have legal issues of its own. For now though the medical cannabis program steams ahead and the Blog will continue to follow any more potential hiccups.

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potgrow1-300x225Medical marijuana growers throughout Maryland are putting the finishing touches on their multi million-dollar greenhouses, and after 4 years of waiting some are prepared to start planting or processing powerful strands of pot within a matter of weeks. But enthusiasm within the walls of the 23 state licensed grow and processing facilities is somewhat tempered as numerous impediments to commencing operations remain. The latest impediment comes in the form of an emergency motion filed in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, which requests a judge to issue a temporary restraining order preventing the state cannabis commission from issuing final grow licenses. One of the companies that did not receive a preliminary grow license filed the motion on the grounds that the commission ignored a portion of the law that requires actively seeking racial and ethnic diversity throughout the licensing process. Lawyers learned of this omission during ongoing depositions as part of the discovery process of pending litigation against the state. This request for a temporary restraining order comes on the heels of the governor issuing an executive order requesting a study whether minority companies face disadvantages in the medical marijuana industry. In addition, it still remains a possibility that lawmakers may be recalled to Annapolis for a special legislative session to address racial diversity concerns with respect to the 15 awarded grow licenses.

As if the restraining order motion and the governor’s inquiry into the fairness of the process weren’t enough, the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission is now under fire for possibly circumventing public contract bidding regulations. State officials with the Office of Legislative Audits have been critical of how the commission awarded the contract to evaluate grower and distributor licenses to an economic studies group at Towson University. It turns out that Towson charged 60 percent more per application that had originally been budgeted for, and the price to review the 512 applications came to a whopping $2.6 million. Auditors clearly believe that the commission spent too much of the state’s money, and it probably did. However at the time the commission was severely inexperienced and underfunded, and ill equipped to handle hundreds more applications than expected. There was understandably tons of pressure to get the straggling medical marijuana program off the ground, and the commission likely made a decision to have the applications reviewed by a competent institution as quickly as possible.

Towson has yet to receive payment on the $2.6 million bill but they are expecting the state to pick up the entire tab. The bottom line is that the university did the work and whatever excess costs were incurred should really be attributed to lawmakers. The process to evaluate and rank the applications was extremely complicated, and placing an arbitrary limit of 15 licenses was short sighted and illogical. In addition, the commission was not afforded adequate resources to do its job, as commissioners were volunteers from the state who did not receive specialized training. Taxpayers would have been better served by a commission made up of a paid, full-time staff with experience implementing one of the many medical marijuana programs in the country.

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police-224426__180State regulators recently did away with an archaic restriction that cost hundreds of otherwise qualified applicants the opportunity to become Maryland law enforcement officers. In a landslide 16 to 1 vote the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission eliminated the unreasonable restriction, which previously prevented anyone who had smoked pot more than 20 times in their life, or more than 5 times since turning 21, from becoming a sworn police officer. The plea to ease the 40-year old restriction originally came from the Baltimore Police commissioner, who had witnessed an unprecedented exodus of city cops in the wake of the 2015 civil unrest and resulting disdain toward law enforcement. The commissioner has maintained that prior marijuana use has consistently been the main disqualifier of new applicants to the force, with 30 applications already being tossed aside in the first few months of 2017 over prior pot use.

The modified rule still places a restriction on past marijuana use, but it is a far more reasonable one. Rather than place an arbitrary number on the amount of times a person has smoked, the commission chose to impose simple mandatory three-year clean period. The Office of the Attorney General has already reviewed the modified regulation and starting June 1st only applicants that have used marijuana in the last three years will be barred by the state from becoming law enforcement officers. Individual police departments are free to choose to impose tougher restrictions if they choose, but in light of changing pot policy around the state and country it is unlikely that many will exercise this right. One thing we know for sure is that the state’s largest police department in Baltimore will not pursue tougher restrictions.

Despite the apparent show of flexibility by the police training and standards commission, the idea that prior casual pot smoking would bar someone from future employment is still asinine. It’s one thing if a department issues a drug test and the applicant fails, as the recreation use of marijuana is still illegal. But a three-year bar seems like pandering to the dwindling but still present establishment that cannot get over the illogical stigma attached to marijuana. Most of these establishment types reside in law enforcement or in the military, and are often those who drink two beers or whiskeys a day without giving it a thought. Alcohol is completely accepted if not promoted in the law enforcement and military culture despite the negative impact it has on thousands of individuals and their families each year. On the other hand the casual use of marijuana can cost a soldier, cop or federal agent his or her career. We are not in a place yet where marijuana is accepted on the same level as beer or liquor, but at least the new police regulations are a step in the right direction.

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thirteen-bags-of-marijuana-found-in-taxi-cabAnne Arundel County police officers recently executed a search warrant of an Annapolis home and recovered a massive stash of controlled substances. The stash was large in both volume and in variety, as police seized over 11 pounds of high quality marijuana as well as a large quantity of cocaine. Cops also discovered smaller but still significant amounts of LSD, ketamine, heroin and hash oil. Two men were arrested as a result of the search and seizure, which took place at around 3 in the afternoon. Charging documents allege that one of the men jumped out of a second story window and attempted to flee upon becoming aware of the police activity. This man, who lives in nearby Severna Park, allegedly threw a vial of ketamine into a neighbors yard before surrendering to law enforcement. The other defendant who lived at the house surrendered more quietly after opening the door for police. Both men are in their mid twenties and are now facing charges in the District Court for Anne Arundel County in Annapolis.

Although the two men were arrested together their current legal situations are much different. The 25-year old Severna Park man was released from custody and faces two misdemeanor drug possession charges, while the 23-year old remains in custody, and is facing a slew of felony charges. Some of these charges carry potential mandatory jail sentences that may come into play as the case moves to the Circuit Court. The felony charges consist of four counts of CDS possession with intent to distribute for each of the different types of drugs that were recovered. This includes one charge for possession with intent to distribute narcotics that is related to the cocaine, one count of possession with intent for the LSD, one for the marijuana and one for the ketamine.

The 23-year old defendant is also facing two counts of CDS possession large amount, which is a provision related to the drug kingpin laws that are aimed at deterring high-level drug trafficking. Under this statute the defendant is facing the possibility two five-year mandatory sentences for the cocaine and LSD that was recovered. The amount of cocaine required to trigger this charge is 448 grams and the police allegedly recovered 526 grams, and one thousand or more doses of LSD qualifies as a large amount under Maryland law and the police allegedly seized 1,800 doses. There was far more marijuana allegedly recovered in the Annapolis home that anything else, but the 11 pounds were way short of the 50-pound threshold for a CDS possession large amount pot charge.

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weed4-300x194Lawmakers celebrated the end of the state’s annual legislative session with balloons and confetti falling from the ceiling, but despite hundreds of passed bills not all elected officials left Annapolis feeling a sense of accomplishment. There were a few criminal law bills that passed the General Assembly including a measure that will classify human trafficking involving a minor as a sex offense, which will require a defendant to register upon conviction. In addition, lawmakers passed several bills taking aim at the heroin epidemic, a battle that the governor has greatly emphasized. But as has been the case for the last five years, marijuana once again dominated the criminal law headlines, and arguably stole the show for the entire legislative session. The irony in all of this is that medical marijuana is already state law, and has been for a few years now. Despite the lack of groundbreaking news on the topic it just keeps sparking intense debate, and this year the debate may continue even after the official end of the 2017 session.

Several lawmakers have called for a special legislative session to take place in the next few weeks to shore up contentious issues that could further delay the launch of Maryland’s medical cannabis program. Although registration for the program has already opened, with some 1,200 patients registering last week and more than 250 doctors signing on, medical cannabis is unlikely to be available by the September target date. There remain two disgruntled growers with pending litigation against the state after their applications were approved and then curiously dropped by the committee. In addition, democratic lawmakers are still pushing hard for the state to add five more licensed growers to the list of fifteen, which would include those with minority ownership. These House lawmakers tried until midnight on the last day of the session to convince their colleagues in the Senate to add more growers, and some even agreed to license the two growers that are suing, but time ran out before an agreement was reached.

Despite zeros on the clock, some lawmakers feel they still have a shot to increase the number of growers by calling a special legislative session. A special session may be called by the governor or a majority of lawmakers, and would likely last just one day. But before a special session could take place there would likely have to be some sort of agreement on whether to include the two disgruntled growers in the additional licenses. Right now though the House Speaker does not believe the legislature should take measures to help two specific private companies, and in direct contrast the Senate President believes that helping these two companies is crucial to launching the medical marijuana program within a reasonable amount of time. As the Blog has stated in prior posts, a simple way to avoid the contentious debate and imminent delay would be to eliminate the cap on the number of grower licenses. All qualified applicants should be allowed to profit off of the medical cannabis program, and the increased tax revenue and licensing fees would afford the state the additional resources to regulate all of the growers. There is no logical reason for an arbitrary cap, but as we all know there is little logic in politics.

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cannabis-1418339__340-300x290Medical marijuana has made frequent appearances in the local news headlines over the last few years as the program has been wrought with controversy over long delays and alleged unfair awarding of grower licenses. Litigation further threatens a successful launch of the program within the next year, but there is a sleeping giant lurking that could render all the back and fourth of the last three years moot. Legalizing marijuana would instantly make an afterthought out of the medical marijuana program, which would essentially become the minor leagues. While marijuana has numerous legitimate medical uses and can work wonders for patients, a large portion of the medical card holders will inevitably be made up of recreational users who obtained a card to be able to legally do something they enjoy.

There is no way hundreds of investors would put up millions of dollars to chase massive profits if their customer base was limited to those with an actual medical need for pot. The second marijuana is legalized most users will have no use for the medical program, save for the few diehards that would keep or obtain their cards to have access to a wider range of products at a cheaper price like in other states. It now seems as if Maryland is finally about to take the first step toward making legalization a reality.

This week lawmakers from both the Senate and the House of Delegates are expected to introduce legislation aimed at regulating and taxing the legal sale of recreational marijuana in Maryland. It’s a step that should have been taken years ago had lawmakers not been preoccupied with righting the sinking medical marijuana ship. The bills are currently in the process of being drafted, but they will likely consist of regulations similar to those currently in place with respect to the sale and consumption of alcohol. The age to legally use pot would be 21 and it would be illegal to consume it while driving. Adults could possibly be allowed to grow their own plants but there would be a likely cap of 6 plants with 3 being mature, and prior convictions for possession over 10 grams would be eligible for expungement. A separate law will likely be dedicated to taxing pot sales, with the State Comptroller’s Officer being tabbed with that responsibility. As much as half the profits from tax revenue could go toward public school funding, with other portions going to drug treatment and DUI prevention and education. The tax rate could be similar to the 9 percent rate currently in place for alcohol.

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thirteen-bags-of-marijuana-found-in-taxi-cabWhile the ruling was highly anticipated, it came as no surprise that The Court of Appeals unanimously held that the smell of marijuana during a traffic stop justifies an officer’s search of a vehicle. The decision handed down at the end of last week didn’t change anything, as law enforcement never stopped using the smell of pot to justify their searches. Rather the opinion will serve to temporarily put the issue to bed for at least a few years until it is rendered obsolete after marijuana is eventually legalized.

The Court of Appeals opinion handed down last Friday was actually a combined ruling for three separate cases and spelled bad news for the defendants that had been anxiously awaiting closure. Two of the cases originated in Baltimore City, and the other began in Cambridge at the Dorchester County Circuit Court. In all three cases the defendants filed motions to suppress evidence including marijuana, cocaine, oxycodone and drug paraphernalia, which was recovered after police officers conducted an automobile search. The justification for the searches was police officers allegedly smelling marijuana. All the defendants argued that at the time officers initiated the searches they did not have reasonable articulable suspicion to believe that the cars contained more than 10 grams of marijuana. Possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana was and still is only punishable by a civil fine, and therefore according to the defendants could not justify a search under the automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment.

The circuit court judges were not persuaded by the defendant’s positions, and sided with the state’s attorneys who argued that despite being only punishable by a civil fine, small amounts of marijuana remained contraband. They argued that decriminalization and legalization are not synonymous, and therefore the presence of any illegal substance justifies a broader search. All three cases traveled to the Court of Special Appeals, which is Maryland’s intermediate appellate court. This court denied the appeals in unpublished opinions and then state’s highest court accepted the cases on writs of certiorari. Arguments took place back in December, and it did not take long for the Court of Appeals to hand down the disappointing but legally sound opinion.