ANNAPOLIS – County and state officials are hopeful the new medical marijuana industry will light up local economies after the state commission has chosen the growers and processors for pre-approval. On Aug. 15, The Natalie M. LaPrade Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC) announced the applicants who had received pre-approval to apply for the 15 grower […]
ANNAPOLIS – County and state officials are hopeful the new medical marijuana industry will light up local economies after the state commission has chosen the growers and processors for pre-approval.
On Aug. 15, The Natalie M. LaPrade Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC) announced the applicants who had received pre-approval to apply for the 15 grower and 15 processors licenses available. Holistic Industries LLC and Seven Points Agro-Therapeutics LLC were among the processors selected, and they plan to locate in Prince George’s County. Prince George’s is the only one of the 16 jurisdictions state-wide where two processors have been approved. Holistic Industries has also received pre-approval to be the sole grower in the county.
Growers will be able to cultivate a variety of strains of the cannabis plant, while the processors will take the plants and their extracts to form other products such as oils, capsules, sprays, tinctures, ointments and patches for use by patients.
The pre-approvals mark a major step forward in launching the new industry, which has been in the works since 2013.
“I’m excited that we have a great number of outstanding companies willing to help sick people in Maryland,” said Dr. Paul Davies, chairman of the MMCC. “All of the chosen business entities have an equal opportunity to complete the licensing process. At this stage, I am very happy with the Commissioners’ choices.”
County Councilwoman Deni Taveras said while she was generally pleased with the selections, the process is not perfect.
“I’m happy the commission ensured there was geographic diversity in the selection process. But I wish there was more of a racial diversity in the selection,” she said. “Moving forward, I hope there’s larger representation of Minority Business Enterprises with the dispensaries so our communities of color can benefit from this new industry that is being created.”
The 15 pre-approvals were selected based on their ranking, given to each applicant by third-party experts from across the country working under the Regional Economic Studies Institute (REIS) at Towson University. Most of the pre-approvals were at the top of the rankings, but those ranking 20 and 21 were selected over others higher on the list to ensure a more even distribution geographically across the entire state. MMCC did not release the ranking of each pre-approval, but listed them in alphabetical order.
REIS is still in the process of evaluating and ranking the 811 applications for dispensaries, which will sell cannabis products. After that, MMCC will select two per state Senatorial district for pre-approval. They anticipate medical marijuana being available to consumers by summer 2017.
The applicants granted pre-approval will now have 365 days to get set up, including getting capital, real estate and facilities in place, training staff and securing local approval for their business. Meanwhile, MMCC will be conducting more detailed background and financial checks on the applicants’ principals before granting the official license.
“Now that the Commissioners have made their selections, the real work begins for these companies,” said Patrick Jameson, MMCC executive director. “We will implement a rigorous Stage Two background and financial due diligence process for these entities prior to issuing a license. A pre-approval is not a license.”
Local jurisdictions have control over regulating where the growers and processors may locate. In Prince George’s County, the county council passed legislation this May that would allow growers and processors to operate by right in open space (O-S), planned industrial/employment park and light industrial zones, meaning they would “apply just like any other business in any other industry,” Taveras said.
However, all cannabis-related activity in the industrial zones must take place in a fully enclosed building, while in the open space zone only growing operations may be outdoors, and even then it must be on a lot with a minimum area of 10 acres and occur 100 feet away from the property line or the street.
The legislation was the result of much compromise between members of the council, some of whom expressed the view that they did not want the industry to come to the county at all. But ultimately, since the state now allows medical marijuana, the county’s lawyers said Prince George’s, or any other jurisdiction, could not prohibit it.
Taveras said she drafted the bill that passed the council, and has gotten positive feedback on it.
“The feedback I’ve gotten is that we have one of the best legislation in the state,” she said.
But the residents of the county may take longer to embrace medical marijuana operations, Taveras acknowledged.
“I think we all have growing pains when it comes to this issue. The concern is we don’t have a choice. This is a state law and we’ve got to approve these,” she said. “What we have done in the legislation is keep it as far from residential areas as possible.”
She said residents in her district have been supportive of the industry, and she personally feels it will bring economic opportunities to Prince Georgians.
“These were highly-ranked selections, so I’m sure they’ll bring a lot to the county in terms of jobs and county taxes. Frankly, we need to amplify our commercial tax base. This is what we need,” Taveras said.