Cannabis commission finale comes as recreational expansion looms on the horizon
A commission that has guided the state through its first wobbly steps into legalized access to marijuana had what is likely its final meeting.
Members of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission said their goodbyes Wednesday. The panel, which has changed over the last five years, goes away as the state enters a new era of access to cannabis for recreational purposes.
“I think this has been an incredible journey,” said Dr. C. Obi Onyewu, chair of the commission. “And I think the state of Maryland, the medical commission has gotten it right in terms of how we’ve done business over the last several years in bringing this to the public and to patients.”
“The priority…even going forward, is always about safety first, and access to the products. And we want to keep that going in this sort of new landscape that we’re going to approach coming to summer,” he said.
Maryland is the latest state to enter the era of legalized cannabis, with the first recreational sales expected on July 1.
Voters last year approved an amendment to the state constitution legalizing recreational cannabis for adults over the age of 21.
A new law awaiting the signature of Gov. Wes Moore (D) ends the medical cannabis board. In its place is an independent panel that will govern the industry providing the drug to patients and recreational users alike. The new commission will have regulatory and licensing authority and ensure products sold in the state are tested and safe.
Moore said earlier this month that he will sign the emergency bill.
When he does, the new law takes immediate effect.
“So with the governor’s expected signing of the adult-use legislation in the coming days, I do expect that today’s meeting will be the last public meeting of the Maryland Medical Cannabis commission,” said Onyewu.
The commission has had its share of early struggles as the state worked out the kinks and issued the first medical growing, processing and dispensing licenses in the history of the state.
That initial process, however, resulted in too few minority owned licensees.
The commission was overhauled as part of a reform package that was also meant to ensure more minority licensees. The 2018 law reconstituted the original board, replacing it with a new 13-member panel.
The bill also added new growing and processing licenses. Many of those, while issued, have yet to result in operational businesses.
A number of the new commission positions were set aside for professionals in specialized fields.
The panel also included room for patient advocates such as Saundra O. Washington, a stage four cancer survivor who was appointed to the panel in 2020 by then Gov. Larry Hogan (R).
Washington said being placed on the commission while battling cancer “was a privilege because I was able to give the perspective of a patient and knowing what our needs were and what we were going through. I know I’ve been a pain in the side of many at many meetings because that has always been the reason I sat here is because I wanted to represent the people that needed this as a medical option.”
Washington became emotional and her voice cracked as she praised the efforts of the commission as it worked to provide the drug to more than 160,000 current registered patients.
“So I don’t want to leave without saying thank you,” Washington said, speaking to fellow commission members. “Thank you for the many doctors. Thank you to the many people that sat in these chairs and made decisions that changed fates and saved lives for the children that were going through seizures that had no other options, you made choices that made a difference for them. And no matter what happens in this industry, and what happens down the line, I don’t want you to ever forget the changes you’ve made in so many lives.”