Medical marijuana panel moves toward final proposed rules

New draft of regulations expected Wednesday, but some details still unresolved

September 09, 2014|By Erin Cox, The Baltimore Sun

A state panel on Tuesday hashed out more of the nitty-gritty details to create a medical marijuana industry from scratch, but some key points remained unresolved as the commission nears a deadline next week.

Maryland's Medical Marijuana Commission plans to release Wednesday a second draft of regulations to create the program. Those 81-pages of rules have been reshaped after the first draft came under fire at a public hearing last month. Among the many changes in the new draft: removing a provision that would have effectively outlawed a grower or dispensary operation within Baltimore city limits.

The panel also decided to create a digital registry of medical marijuana patients to help assure that the drug is distributed only to eligible customers. It also tweaked the rules about how patients with post-traumatic stress disorder can get access to the drug.

Missing from the revisions, however, are details about how much patients and distributors will pay to take part in the program. The legislature passed a medical marijuana law this year that allows for up to 15 growers and about 100 dispensaries across the state. It is up to the medical marijuana commission to decide how to implement the law.

The commission has a Monday deadline to prepare regulations, which will be sent to state health secretary Dr. Joshua Sharfstein for review and then to a legislative panel.

Sharon Bloom, acting executive director of the commission, said that choosing to publish a draft Wednesday effectively meets next week's deadline.

Baltimore County Del. Dan Morhaim, a Democrat and longtime advocate for medical marijuana, disagreed. Morhaim has criticized the commission for inefficiently working behind closed doors, and said Tuesday that failing to finish the regulations by Monday delays the entire program.

"Every delay means that there is a needy or suffering patient who is not getting treatment. Every day is another day that someone is denied pain relief," said Morhaim, the only physician in the Maryland General Assembly. "Had the commission engaged the public sooner, they wouldn't be this late in the process. And as they all recognized, when they finally allowed the public to participate and make comments, a lot of the comments made sense."

The commission's newest set of rules also suggests that patients would be limited to 120 grams of marijuana a month, which translates to about 4.5 marijuana cigarettes per day, committee members said during a public meeting Tuesday in Annapolis.

Patients whose conditions warrant a larger dose would be able to seek a waiver, but committee members said the limit represented a middle ground between states that allow more and those that allow less.

"For some patients this sounds like an enormous amount. For others, this will not be nearly enough," said Eric Sterling, an attorney and commission member.

The commission plans to meet again in two weeks to decide how much to charge qualifying patients for the ID cards necessary to obtain the drug, as well as how much to charge growers and dispensers to obtain one of the state's licenses.

Committee members said they wanted the fees to reflect the cost of overseeing the program, and they needed to wait to get a final budget before setting fees. No further public hearings are expected.

ecox@baltsun.com

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