Maryland

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Cannabis Legalization in Maryland

Bottom Line:

Medical cannabis use is permitted in the state of Maryland, though all forms of recreational cannabis are prohibited. Decriminalization of small quantities of cannabis in 2014 brought into place significantly lighter penalties for non-medical users caught carrying or consuming cannabis.

It became clear following an eye-opening 2010 study that Maryland’s cannabis policy needed an urgent rethink. During the course of the year, the state chalked up the fifth highest overall arrest rate for cannabis possession in the United States – 409 arrests per 100,000 residents. Not only did cannabis arrests account for almost 50% of all drug arrests in the state, but it was discovered that black residents were almost three times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than whites. Mercifully, lawmakers decided the time had come to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis, though not until several years later.

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What’s Maryland’s Take on Cannabis Decriminalization?

It was in April 2014 that the decriminalization of small amounts of cannabis (10g or less) was brought into effects by Governor Martin O'Malley. Possession of such amounts would no longer be considered a criminal offense, but a civil infraction. The new law stated that if a person aged 21 or over was caught with a small amount of cannabis, they would be liable for a fine and ordered to attend a drug education program.

Interestingly, it wasn’t until 2016 that SB 517 was passed by the Maryland General Assembly, which extended decriminalization policy to cannabis paraphernalia. Until this point, the possession of bongs, pipes, papers and so on was still illegal. Smoking cannabis in public would also be reduced to a civil infraction as of this time. Across the board, the bill brought into effect a maximum fine of $500 for a first offense under the new rules.

When Did Maryland Legalize Medical Cannabis?

The legal medical cannabis system in Maryland was officially established in 2013 when Governor Martin O'Malley put his signature on new state-wide legislation. Medical cannabis distribution at the time was limited to licensed academic medical centers, which would be responsible for carefully monitoring patients. Three years later, more than 800 applications had been submitted by prospective dispensary owners. However, the state’s medical cannabis specified a limit of two dispensary licenses per Senate district – a total of 94 for the entire state.

15 licenses to cultivate medical cannabis were issued in 2016, along with an additional 15 licenses for cannabis processing companies. More than 150 applications were submitted by would-be growers, along with around 125 applications from cannabis processors. However, the process of issuing the licenses was blighted by controversy, as many of those who were successfully granted licenses had strong political connections. One applicant who was denied a license even sued the state.

In any case, it wasn’t until late 2017 than the medical cannabis system became operational and the state’s first legal medical cannabis transactions occurred. At the time, there were less than 10 dispensaries operating across the state, responsible for serving around 8,500 patients deemed eligible for medical marijuana. Even today, there are no more than 25 or so dispensaries doing business state-wide.

So, Is Marijuana Legal in Maryland?

The short answer is no – unless you have a medical cannabis permit. There is currently no allowance for the legal possession, consumption, cultivation or distribution of recreational cannabis in Maryland. Decriminalization eliminated heavy penalties for the possession and consumption of cannabis in quantities of less than 10g, but all forms of recreational cannabis are technically still illegal state-wide.

Where Can I Buy Medical Cannabis in Maryland?

Medical cannabis in Maryland can only be purchased from one of the state’s authorized dispensaries. Though with so few establishments in business, doing so can be easier said than done. So far, just 22 licensed dispensaries have opened their doors and begun medical cannabis sales. Seven of which are located in Montgomery, Frederick and Howard counties – the rest being somewhat scattered about the place. However, dozens of new dispensaries are scheduled to go into business over the course of the coming months and years.

How Can I Get Medical Cannabis in Maryland?

In order to qualify as a medical cannabis patient, you’ll first need to register with the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission. After which, it’s a case of being diagnosed with a qualifying medical condition by an authorized physician and receiving a formal recommendation.

Even then, you’re not 100% guaranteed free and easy access to medical cannabis. Product shortages and complete outages have been rife across the state since the medical cannabis system went live, leading some dispensaries to place heavy restrictions on maximum purchase quantities.

What Kinds of Medical Cannabis Products Are Available?

Maryland’s medical cannabis product availability and consumption policy is somewhat unique. While many other states have prohibited the sale of smokable cannabis for medical purposes, cannabis flowers are readily available in Maryland. However, state law does not permit the production or sale of medical cannabis edibles – the most popular medical marijuana products in the US by far. Alternatives to smokable cannabis available in Maryland include vape pens, creams, oils, capsules and cannabis shatter.

Can All Physicians in Maryland Recommend Cannabis?

Technically speaking, any competent and responsible doctor who has a genuine relationship with their patients can recommend medical cannabis in Maryland. It’s also possible for midwives, podiatrists and even dentists to recommend medical marijuana. However, all such physicians are carefully monitored by the state and expected to recommend cannabis only where deemed 100% necessary. In addition, a sizeable proportion of the medical community remains opposed to medical cannabis and refuses to recommend it. Search online for a reputable and recommended cannabis doctor, before making your initial appointment.

How Much Does Medical Marijuana Cost in Maryland?

With the program still finding its feet, medical cannabis in Maryland is notorious for being prohibitively expensive. In fact, medical cannabis has been known to sell for more than $650 per ounce. And that’s for a supply that would last a typical patient no more than a month, making it completely out of reach for most medical cannabis patients.

On the plus side, it’s largely guaranteed that medical pot prices will plummet with time. As more dispensaries open their doors and initial shortages become a thing of the past, medical cannabis prices will become more competitive state-wide. Still, not nearly as competitive as those of other pro-pot states across the US.

Can Patients from Other States Purchase Marijuana?

For the time being, it’s only possible to purchase medical cannabis if you’re either a Maryland resident or you’re receiving treatment for a qualifying condition in Maryland. Otherwise, there is no allowance for out-of-state visitors to access medical cannabis. Of course, the same also applies to individuals from other countries – Maryland is not a cannabis tourism destination by any stretch of the imagination.

What Conditions Qualify for Medical Cannabis Treatment?

As elsewhere, Maryland publishes formal guidelines indicating which conditions may qualify a patient for medical cannabis. Examples of which at the time of writing include Cachexia or wasting syndrome, anorexia, severe pain, severe nausea, seizures, severe or persistent muscle spasms, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.

However, it is also possible for physicians to request special consideration for their patients, if they believe a cannabis recommendation is in their best interest. There is therefore a degree of flexibility in the formal list of qualifying conditions.

How Much Medicinal Cannabis Can I Possess in Maryland?

If you can foot the rather elevated bill, you can legally purchase and possess a maximum of 120g of medical cannabis per month in Maryland. Once again, there is a degree of flexibility and a physician may recommend larger quantities of cannabis for a patient, should it be necessary.

Does Medical Insurance Cover Cannabis for Medical Purposes?

It is highly unlikely that your medical insurance will cover the costs of your medical cannabis. The same being true for the rest of the US in general, where patients are required to pay for their medical cannabis out of their own pockets.

Is It Possible to Grow My Own Medical Cannabis?

While most medical cannabis states in the US have introduced provisions for home growing, all forms of unlicensed cultivation are illegal in Maryland. This is particularly surprising and disappointing, given both the high costs and general lack of medical cannabis availability state-wide. There are also no indications that these cultivation restrictions will be reversed anytime soon.

Will Maryland Legalize Recreational Cannabis?

For the time being, the likelihood of recreational cannabis legalization in Maryland is extremely low. The state has repeatedly demonstrated its commitment to heavily controlled medical cannabis production and distribution, giving no indication that recreational cannabis reform is on its way. The state’s medical cannabis program is likely to improve significantly over the coming years, though medical cannabis legalization seems out of the question for now.