Many thousands of marijuana plants began growing in the last two weeks in Maryland, as the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission licensed eight more growers, to join the one licensed back in May.
Because the growers were not allowed to begin planting until they were fully licensed and the plants have a three-month or slightly longer growing cycle, the state is not likely to have substantial amounts of medical marijuana product available until November, as previously reported, or even December.
MMCC also licensed four processors on Aug. 14. They work as “middlemen” between growers and dispensaries and create products for administering and ingesting cannabis materials.
Forward Gro in the Baltimore area, the grower licensed in May, declined to say whether it had begun crops back then or waited until processors and dispensaries were available for its output. “Forward Gro is working diligently to get its first product to market,” said spokesperson Vicki Bendure of Bendure Communications. “Timing on processing and distribution is still to be determined.”
As of Aug. 22, the state still had only one fully-licensed dispensary: Wellness Solutions in Frederick.
“More dispensaries will be licensed soon,” said Patrick Jameson, MMCC executive director. Dispensaries “didn’t need to spend any money until there was any product available or on its way,” he explained.
MMCC has given out preliminary dispensary licenses to two potential retailers in each of the state’s 47 legislative districts. Under current rules, Jameson noted, they must submit their applications for final licensure by Dec. 9.
None of the finally licensed growers or processors are based in Montgomery County.
Meanwhile, at Wellness Solutions, owner Michael Kline is seeing strong signs of interest among both patients and doctors throughout the state.
Kline said that, while Wellness has no cannabis to sell, it opened its doors for “pre-orders” soon after getting licensed on July 5. The process, he explained, “can easily take an hour” between a patient and Wellness medical professionals, generally a nurse practitioner and a pharmacist. Wellness will check the patient’s MMCC registration, take a medical history, and develop a recommendation (not a physician’s prescription) for an accurately-dosed, specific formulation.
Without any advertising, Wellness is operating “at capacity,” Kline said. It already has 11 people working, mostly on the preorder process with patients. Since it has no income yet from selling cannabis products, the preorders are “extremely expensive” for the company, he noted.
“We talk with all the licensed growers and processors,” he added. “At this point,” he said, “we don’t even know what products they will offer.” He also was not sure when they will have products available for purchase.
Kline hopes that once medicine is available, “We can convert the pre-order to an actual order” in a quick process that will work well given the likely rush of patients when first availability is finally reached.
All the patients “come from referrals from doctors across the state,” he added. To reach doctors, he said, Wellness has five people who already call on physicians for other products, who explain why the careful, private pre-orders “will serve the doctors’ practices well.”
So far, he noted, just 400 doctors have signed up with MMCC to do the certifications needed to release medical marijuana under state law. Kline said there are thousands of other doctors in the state who so far are choosing not to do the certifications, but who can refer patients to Wellness. The company is also making the 400 certified doctors aware of its services, he added.
Wellness, without even a street sign and with no address or directions on its website, is hoping to develop a statewide following of patients who want very high privacy and service and who in some cases remain concerned about using a medicine still barred under federal law, he said.
The company’s website, wellnesssolutionsmd.com, is aimed at doctors as much as at patients, Kline said. Wellness is located near the corner of Buckeysville Pike (Maryland Route 85) and English Muffin Way in Frederick, he added.
Given the expense of delivering this model and the longtime needed to build the loyalty of enough patients, “It could be three years before we break even,” Kline said.
On the hopeful side, he noted, since Wellness has been the state’s only fully licensed dispensary, his phone has been ringing off the hook every day until well into the evening.