In Maryland, for advocates who have been fighting prohibition, like Oliver Summers, for more than two decades, adult use legalization appears to be full-steam ahead. For independent operators looking to apply and receive licenses to grow or sell cannabis in the state, efforts to legalize seems to be moving more slowly.
“I used to joke that I would be 50 before it was legalized in the Northeast,” said Summers, now a director of compliance for the Los Angeles-based Superior Herbal Health. “And now I’m one year from 50.”
And while Maryland lawmakers voted to allow adult use cannabis legalization to be a part of November’s ballot late last month, there is still work to be done.
The first steps in the right direction came at the end of March, based around House Bill 1 and House Bill 837. The state is aiming to join a contingency of nearly half of America in legalizing adult use cannabis dispensaries and cultivation. But even with a vote in favor later this year, delays are expected, as studies in New Jersey and other Mid-Atlantic states have experienced.
“I think the voters are going to support it,” said Mackie Barch, the Chief Cannabis Officer for Culta, a Maryland cannabis dispensary. “There’s no doubt that it will be widely embraced. However, the actual implementation of the program is to be determined, for a number of reasons.”
Grown In spoke with the aforementioned Summers a few weeks ago regarding legalization on the East Coast, specifically, attempts that have been delayed in Delaware and Maryland. Summers, a cannabis advocate with over 20 years of experience and a pioneer in the dispensary and cultivation industry in California in the early 2000’s has been following efforts from 3,000 miles away.
“Where we are now versus where we were 15 years ago, it is mind blowing how fast we have moved. I know things aren’t moving as fast people would appreciate though. People from my perspective, from my group, are blown away with how fast things have come and how it will continue to come,” said Summers.
“You just have to get over the paranoia surrounding the local governments. It’s going to take a little bit longer, but it’s best to take longer and get it done right as opposed to rushing into something.”
As previously reported, Maryland will rely on a disparity study to further adult use in regards to social equity which brings a concern over how long that will take to accomplish.
“Maryland is very focused on social equity, as they should be,” said Barch. “But however it will take to allocate licenses based on social equity, they will need a disparity study. By law, they have to complete one in two years. Questions remain whether they will be able to complete that in time.”
Maryland State Senator Brian Feldman has a cannabis reform bill in the House as well, titled SB0833. The bill requires the Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Cannabis Commission to conduct studies of usage of cannabis in the state and efforts to assist minority and women-owned businesses to enter the adult use market. More importantly, SB0833 focuses on penalties surrounding cannabis, from possession to sentencing.
“The Senate bill is one of the more aggressive in the country for social equity,” said Barch. “What New York is going to do is be an unlimited license state and while they are giving [social equity candidates] a lot when they set up that program, doesn’t mean they have been given an advantage.
Barch has heard from legislators that they don’t want to see dispensaries on every corner, nor billboards promoting adult use cannabis.
“Maryland is conservative,” said Barch. “I think it’s a very conservative type of program and a much more measured approach.”
According to Summers, most of the opposition faced in California was from local governments. Municipalities weren’t keen on legalizing cannabis, or allowing dispensaries in their region. He doesn’t think Maryland will be left behind with a delay in entering the market, but it could take some extra effort.
“They will eventually come around,” Summers said. “Whether it’s next year or five years from now, it’s just a matter of changing over a lot of politicians. In LA, when we first opened dispensaries, the city council was not a fan of us. We had to fight about a dozen bans.
“But we were proactive in our work and that’s how we moved the needle. It just means advocates have to get a little dirtier, a little more on the ground and start working with individual politicians and neighborhood councils.”
Barch agrees, and mentions that it’s been a fight waging half a century. He says people have been conditioned to believe cannabis is a prohibited plant and that in the past laws were created that either intentionally or unintentionally, have affected minorities and specific communities.
“There’s something in your DNA that tells you what you are doing is wrong,” Barch said. “What we are really going to be working through for the next few generations is how to heal that divide and get more comfortable with these things that could make a lot of sense.
“We are trying to unwind history and this is a major step.”