Md. names cannabis growers, processors
More than 20 companies given preliminary OK for medical pot
The state has awarded preliminary licenses to more than 20 companies to grow and process marijuana in Maryland, a major step forward in the effort to make medical cannabis available to patients in Maryland.
Licenses were awarded Monday to companies across the state, from Washington County in Western Maryland to Worcester County on the Eastern Shore. They plan to grow marijuana plants and turn them into pills, oils, extracts and other products for patients suffering from a range of illnesses.
Several of the winning applicants have political connections.
Doctors Orders Maryland was approved for licenses to both grow and process medical marijuana in Dorchester County. The company's clinical director is Del. Dan K. Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat and physician who has been the chief advocate in the General Assembly for medical cannabis.
Another company, Holistic Industries of Prince George's County, had a letter of recommendation written by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.
Miller said he wrote letters on behalf of multiple applicants, but Holistic Industries was the only one to win a license.
“It was very general, nothing spectacular,” he said.
Holistic Industries' partners include Josh Genderson, who grows marijuana in the District of Columbia; former state health secretary Nelson Sabatini; Donald E. Wilson, a former dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine; and Henry P. “Phil” Miller Jr., a distant cousin of the Senate president who is a prominent Prince George's County farmer.
Gerry Evans, a top Annapolis lobbyist who represents Holistic Industries, said the company's leaders are experienced and knowledgeable. Holistic Industries plans to open a growing and processing operation in a warehouse in central Prince George's County.
“Anyone who thinks it's a bunch of hippies in their backyard, that's not what this is,” Evans said.
Another top Annapolis lobbyist, Frank Boston, is a minority partner in Green Leaf Medical, which won a growing license.
“Obviously, we're excited about the news, but there's still a lot of work to do,” Boston said.
Green Leaf Medical's president and CEO, Philip Goldberg, said the company has been paying rent on a 40,000-square foot warehouse in Frederick County in hopes of getting a license.
Goldberg estimated it could take about nine months to remodel the warehouse, win final approvals from the state medical cannabis commission, grow plants and get them to processors.
The process was long, but Goldberg said the state was wise to be deliberate in how it set up the state's licensing program. He's president-elect of the Maryland Cannabis Industry Association.
“I believe the selection process was fair,” he said. “I'm sure there are people who didn't win who don't feel that way.”
Members of the Natalie M. LaPrade Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission selected the winning applicants Aug. 5, but their identities were not revealed publicly until Monday, to give state officials time to conduct initial background checks and review financial records.
“I'm excited that we have a great number of outstanding companies willing to help sick people in Maryland,” Dr. Paul W. Davies, chairman of the commission, said in a statement.
The commission received 146 applications for licenses to grow and 124 applications for licenses to process. It had 15 licenses to award in each category. Some applicants were granted licenses in both categories.
The applications, with identifying information removed, were reviewed and ranked by Towson University's Regional Economic Studies Institute before the commission voted.
The commission selected 13 of 15 of the top-ranked applicants for licenses to grow cannabis. Two applicants in the top group were bumped in favor of applicants ranked 20 and 21 in order to improve geographic diversity. The two applicants that were bumped have not been publicly identified.
Goldberg said he expects that those two companies will be “looking at all their options now.”
The companies announced Monday will now go through a second stage of review that includes deeper background checks and financial reviews.
It still will be months before final approvals are granted, and patients won't be able to have access to the drug until at least next year.
The commission has not yet awarded preliminary licenses for up to 94 dispensaries across the state. More than 800 applications were submitted.
Maryland lawmakers passed a medical marijuana law in 2013 but adjusted it when an industry failed to emerge.
Gail Rand started as an advocate for legalizing medical cannabis in hopes of helping her son, who has epilepsy.
She's now chief financial officer of Forward Gro, which is leaning toward converting greenhouses in Anne Arundel County to grow cannabis. Forward Gro has multiple options for its cannabis location, as the company's leadership team includes Gary Mangum and Mike McCarthy of Elkridge-based Bell Nursery.
Forward Gro now will undergo more background checks, have financial documents scrutinized, develop procedures, hire staff and undergo a site inspection before securing a final license. Rand said the company will “work feverishly” in hopes of making its medical cannabis available to patients in the second half of 2017.
Michael Bronfein, CEO of Curio Cultivation, said he
“We will be very focused on quality and science and providing transparency to physicians and patients, to give them comfort that they know exactly what they are taking and why they are taking it,” he said.