By: Melissa Chapaska

On April 14, 2014, Maryland legalized cannabis for medicinal use. Patients were hopeful that the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission’s grower/processor pre-approvals in August signaled an end to the nearly 3 year wait for medical marijuana program implementation – until challenges to geographic and racial diversity decisions by the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission threatened to postpone implementation of Maryland’s medical marijuana program indefinitely.

However, in spite of these legal challenges to the grower/processor licensing process, the Commission continues to move forward with program implementation, releasing dispensary license pre-approvals on December 9, 2016.  Ten of the 15 companies that were awarded dispensary pre-approvals have received pre-approvals to grow and process cannabis.  Notably, Alternative Medicine Maryland and GTI Maryland, which each have pending suits against the Commission challenging the denial of their grower/processor applications, were pre-approved for dispensary licenses.  However, following its dispensary pre-approval, Alternative Medicine Maryland asserts that it will not consider the prospect of opening a dispensary without the ability to open a growing/processing facility.  In its pending lawsuit, Alternative Medicine Maryland argues the Commission’s failure to consider racial diversity when awarding grower/processor licenses contradicts the directive in Maryland’s medical cannabis law that regulators “actively seek to achieve” racial and ethnic diversity in the industry.  In its suit, the company is seeking an order halting the award of final grower/processor licenses and directing the Commission to re-evaluate grower/processor applications through a new process that considers racial diversity.  It is still too early to tell whether the Commission’s dispensary awards will face the same legal challenges and political backlash as its grower/processor decisions or whether the Commission’s plan to hire a diversity consultant will silence critics of the Commission’s licensing process.

In the meantime, the 102 dispensaries pre-approved by the Commission continue on to Stage Two of the approval process, which includes background investigations, financial due diligence, and compliance inspections by the Commission, as well as completing regulatory requirements, raising capital, securing local zoning approvals, and constructing facilities.  After a prospective dispensary satisfies these requirements, the Commissioners will hold a public meeting to vote on the company’s license request.

While the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission suggests that medical marijuana may be available to patients as soon as this summer, it remains uncertain whether legal challenges to the licensing process will delay program implementation past the Commission’s timeline. Be sure to subscribe to the Cannabis Law PA Blog and follow us on Twitter for up-to-date information as implementation of Maryland’s medical marijuana program and subsequent legal challenges move forward.