The Maryland Medical Cannabis Program: What’s Taking So Long?
Mar 30, 2017 02:29PM
by Patricia Frye, MDIt has been four years since the voters of Maryland approved medical cannabis. Various setbacks lengthened the process of implementation, much to the frustration of patients and doctors alike. However, we may soon be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
Initially intended to be a university-based program, it was back to the drawing board once the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University declined to participate. And who could blame them? With both institutions dependent on federal funding and research grants, possibly butting heads with the Department of Justice and Drug Enforcement Administration, probably didn’t seem very appealing. So a year was lost as the commission revamped the program and removed the “university-based” language.
It then took time to finalize regulations and open up the application process for growers, processors and dispensaries. Being a business-friendly state, Maryland was then inundated with more than 800 applications, which further slowed down the process.
The preliminary growers licenses were awarded last August, soon followed by processing licenses. The phase one licenses for dispensaries were issued in December. Still no final licenses to grow, process or dispense have been issued as the awardees undergo the second phase of licensing with background investigations and other regulatory approvals. It is everyone’s hope that the growers will receive their final licenses soon enough to start planting in the spring so that the dispensaries will open by the fall.
As we near the end of the first quarter of 2017, Maryland eagerly awaits the opening of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission Patient Registry. Registering online is the first step patients must take. There is no fee to register and once registered, patients must see their doctor for approval. Any health care provider who is allowed to write prescriptions for controlled substances can register with the commission and approve patients for medical cannabis. In addition to medical doctors, nurse practitioners, dentists, podiatrists, physician assistants, chiropractors and midwives will be able to make recommendations.
If a provider approves the patient’s use of cannabis, they will use the patient’s registration number and issue an online recommendation, which will be available to the dispensary via a statewide database. Dispensary access will then only require a valid government-issued photo ID. The commission will provide ID cards if the patient wishes to carry one but there will be a charge and they are not necessary for purchasing. The medical cannabis recommendation is valid for 120 days.
The Natalie M. LaPrade Maryland Medical Cannabis Program will be available not only to Maryland residents, but to anyone who receives medical care in the state. Qualifying conditions include chronic diseases or conditions that result in a patient being admitted into hospice or palliative care; or a chronic or debilitating medical condition or the treatment of a chronic or debilitating medical condition that produces wasting, anorexia, severe or chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures, persistent muscle spasms, PTSD or any condition that the medical provider feels would benefit from cannabis therapy. It should be known that cannabis has proven to be an effective way of treating chronic inflammatory and neuropathic pain to the extent that many patients are able to dramatically wean opiate doses or stop using opiates completely.
It is important for Maryland patients to remember that medical cannabis can only be obtained legally from Maryland dispensaries. This will benefit the patient in that dispensary-issued cannabis will be laboratory tested for chemicals, pesticides, bacteria, mold and other possible contaminants. While D.C. has eliminated their residency requirements, it will be many months before they accept out-of-state patients, and to date, it is not clear under what circumstances out-of-state patients will be allowed to make purchases in DC.
In the meantime, patients who are considering medicinal cannabis should start by having a conversation with their healthcare provider. If their provider is unable to advise them on its effective use or is not able to make a recommendation, they may be able to recommend a colleague experienced in cannabis science and medicine who can manage that aspect of their care.
For more detailed information on the MMCC program, visit the commission’s website at mmcc.Maryland.gov.
Patricia C Frye, M.D. is the founder of Takoma Alternative Care, located at 6930 Carroll Ave., Ste. 412, Takoma Park, MD. For more information, call 301-328-3045 or visit TakomaCare.com.