Customers buy products at the Harvest Medical Marijuana Dispensary in San Francisco. (Haven Daley, Associated Press file)

More than 100 businesses picked to sell Maryland medical marijuana

Lawmakers first approved medical marijuana 3 1/2 years ago, but the program has been beset by various delays

Maryland officials on Friday announced the 102 businesses who have received preliminary authorization to sell the state’s first legal medical marijuana, bringing the long-awaited program a step closer to fruition.

The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission said patients could be able to begin legally purchasing the drug as soon as this summer, to treat conditions including seizures, anxiety and side effects of cancer or chemotherapy. Lawmakers first approved medical marijuana 3 1/2 years ago, but the program has been beset by various delays.

The commission last month gave preliminary authorization to dispensaries in each of the 47 state Senate districts, choosing from a pool of more than 800 applications scored by outside experts and with names of the companies and people involved redacted to avoid bias. The agency announced the identities of the winners and their locations on Friday.

“These dispensaries will be the new face of the medical cannabis industry in Maryland,” said Patrick Jameson, executive director of the commission.

The businesses must pass additional vetting that includes financial and criminal background checks of owners and inspections of the facilities before marijuana can hit the shelves. A full list of winners can be found on the webpage for the state cannabis commission.

Regulators in August approved 15 companies to grow marijuana and 15 companies to process the drug into medical products. There are seven companies that won preliminary licenses in all three categories: to grow, process and sell medical marijuana.

Maryland law limits dispensaries to two per state senate district, with exemptions for shops operated by growers. Eight districts have been approved for three dispensaries, while a Senate district that includes Rockville and Gaithersburg is slotted for up to four marijuana outlets.

A business may only operate one dispensary, which limited the number of licenses in some areas of the state.

Regulators approved only one dispensary for a district covering northwest Baltimore, for example, because all other applicants seeking to operate in that district were approved to operate dispensaries elsewhere. A Washington County district had only one applicant that met the minimum score to qualify for a license.

A firm that hired Del. Dan Morhaim, D-Baltimore County, as a consultant won a preliminary license to operate in Baltimore. Morhaim, a medical doctor and one of the foremost champions of legalizing medical marijuana in the legislature, has drawn scrutiny over his dual roles, including an inquiry from the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics.

The lawmaker says he has followed all disclosure and applicable ethics rules.

Other notable dispensary winners include:

• Two firms that are suing cannabis regulators for denying them grower’s licenses- Alternative Medicine Maryland, in Anne Arundel County, and GTI Maryland, in Montgomery County, whose team includes former Baltimore Ravens tackle and NFL medical marijuana advocate Eugene Monroe.

•  CannaPharmacy Maryland LLC in Prince George’s County, an offshoot of New Jersey’s largest medical marijuana growing facility . A former director of criminal intelligence for Interpol is advising the business on security, and its legal team includes a New Jersey state lawmaker.

•  MMRC in Baltimore County, a firm represented by former Prince George’s County state’s attorney and retired federal judge Alexander Williams.

•  CWS in Baltimore County, whose managing member Jon Tortora has led anti-fraud programs for the Social Security Administration.

•  Rabbi Jeffrey Kahn, who runs a dispensary in the Takoma neighborhood of Northwest Washington had applied to open a shop right across the border in Takoma Park, Md., but instead won approval to expand to the Bethesda area.

Some companies that won authorization for dispensaries but not for other cannabis-related businesses say they may decide it is not financially worth it to run a storefront without associated growing and processing operations.

“We’re not even considering the prospect of just having a dispensary,” said Greg Daniel, chief executive of Alternative Medicine Maryland, which is suing regulators for failing to consider the race of applicants in awarding growing licenses.

None of the businesses authorized to grow medical marijuana are led by African Americans, and regulators did not consider race in the applications despite provisions in the medical marijuana legalization law calling for diversity among cultivators.

In response to criticism over the lack of diversity in the burgeoning and potentially lucrative industry, cannabis regulators this fall asked all authorized marijuana companies to voluntarily provide a breakdown of the gender and racial diversity of their ownership and workforce.

Del. Cheryl Glenn, D-Baltimore, the chair of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, says the caucus expects to announce legislation this month that attempts to address critics’ concerns. She says diversity in retail sales licenses would not quell calls for minority representation in the more profitable growing industry.

Commission officials say they do not want further delays to the program. They are in the process of hiring a diversity consultant to advise them on working with minority businesses enterprises.