Four long years after Maryland lawmakers legalized cannabis for medical use, regulators have finally issued the state’s first license to grow the plant. The new licensee, a two-acre warehouse in Anne Arundel County, can begin cultivation immediately.
In a unanimous vote Wednesday, the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC) granted final approval to a company called ForwardGro, the Baltimore Sun reports. The firm has been positioning itself aggressively to be one of Maryland’s 15 licensed growers, pouring more than $10 million into building a state-of-the-art greenhouse in the basin of a reclaimed sand mine.
“A new industry in Maryland has been launched,” MMCC Executive Director Jameson said in a statement announcing the news. “They can start to grow immediately.”
The company expects the first products to be available to patients early this fall—welcome news to patients who’ve been waiting to access cannabis in the state since legislators passed HB 881 back in 2014. Since then, the state’s medical program has run into numerous delays as it struggled to get off the ground.Of the 15 companies that were granted preliminary cultivation licenses in August 2016, ForwardGro is the first to earn final approval. Gail Rand, the companies chief financial officer, told the Baltimore Sun she overjoyed. Rand reportedly started to lobby the General Assembly to legalize medical cannabis more than five years ago, in the hope that it would minimize her son’s epileptic seizures.
But the state’s licensing process has also caused considerable controversy. This week a lawsuit sought to further delay the granting of final licenses over allegations that regulators failed to take applicants’ race into consideration during the process, a step required under state law.
Alternative Medicine Maryland filed an emergency request Monday in Baltimore Circuit Court to prevent the commission from issuing any final licenses. The medical marijuana company claims in the suit that the commission broke the law by not employing a race-conscious application process—a provision of the law designed to encourage more minority-owned cannabis businesses.
Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams has not ruled on the emergency motion, according to the Sun. An attorney for Alternative Medicine Maryland says the court is scheduled to consider the request on May 25.
Once ForwardGro harvests its cannabis, it intends to sell them to licensed processors to turn the flowers into oils, tinctures, and vapor products for patients. The company will also sell directly to dispensaries.
As of Wednesday, 6,500 patients had applied for the medical marijuana program, commission officials told the Sun, and 276 physicians had registered to be able to recommend the drug.