Medical cannabis companies still struggling to open stores in Maryland will have their preliminary approvals to operate revoked by state regulators if they do not finalize their licenses and open their doors by Sept. 30.
The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission issued a bulletin Thursday alerting companies of the deadline and advising them to complete their final inspections by Aug. 15 to have enough time to complete the steps required to sell medicinal marijuana to consumers out of retail stores.
“We want to encourage everyone to get open as soon as possible,” Joy Strand, the commission’s executive director, said Friday.
Nearly all of the 76 licensed cannabis dispensaries in Maryland have opened their doors — including Mission, which held an open house Thursday night at the Falls Road dispensary it will soon open to the public in Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood.
That leaves 26 other companies in the pre-approval stage, Strand said. The commission last month decided that those dispensaries have had enough time to finalize their operations and start selling products.
All of the 102 dispensaries were supposed to be open by December 2017 when sales began. Maryland’s medical cannabis industry generated $109 million in sales last year.
“It’s about time,” said Mackie Barch, owner of the Culta dispensary in Baltimore’s Federal Hill and chairman of the Maryland Wholesale Medical Cannabis Trade Association. “The commission has gone out of its way to give people an ample amount of time to get open. If you can’t get open, you probably have some sort of issue that can’t be resolved.”
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Leah Heise, chief experience officer for Mission, said the Arizona-based company has two other dispensaries still in the pre-approval phase.
“Zoning is a stumbling block — and costs,” Heise said.
She said partnerships also have fallen apart when investors learned they might not be able to achieve the coveted “vertical integration” — possessing licenses to grow, process and sell cannabis.
“For some people it’s not attractive to just run a store,” she said. “It’s a lot more complex than saying they just can’t get open.”
Barch and Strand acknowledged that opening in certain areas of the state — notably, Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties — has been difficult due to zoning rules and opposition from some elected officials. Former Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh was opposed to medical cannabis operations.
Still, Barch added, “if you can’t get open in that amount of time, these licenses need to be reallocated.”
Strand said the commission does not plan to re-award any licenses that are surrendered by companies that lose their preliminary approvals.
“We need to get the original group of applicants open,” Strand said.
The commission is in the middle of awarding new licenses for four cannabis growers and 10 processors, an extensive process prompted by the lack of diversity among owners of firms in those two categories.
There are 15 licensed growers and 16 licensed processors. The three growers and two processors that remain in the preliminary approval stage still have several months to meet their 12-month deadline to begin operations.
Dispensaries can receive an extension through the end of the year only if they can prove that their issues are due to an “unforeseen hardship” beyond their control, the commission bulletin stated.
In Hampden Thursday night, cannabis advocate Manny Mendoza of Chicago addressed a crowd of people who gathered for the open house of Mission dispensary. Mendoza, a chef who specializes in cannabidiol- (or CBD-) infused food, said that as the industry expands people need to become better educated about the “healing” properties of medical cannabis and related products and work to reverse the stigma associated with marijuana that has burdened many with criminal records.
“It’s a healing plant, it’s a medicinal herb,” he said. “It’s something that for thousands of years has been used to bring people together, not to pull them apart, not to marginalize them, not to criminalize them or demonize them or basically cast them aside as non-people.”