Medical marijuana business growing in Maryland

By MIKE LEWIS
mlewis@crossroadsbizjournal.com

By Mike Lewis
Maryland Health and Wellness Center Inc. plans to open a medical marijuana dispensary in this former bank building at 1571 Wesel Blvd.

Maryland is proving to be fertile ground for at least some medical marijuana operations.

Medical cannabis dispensary sales have risen each of the past 10 months, from $1.8 million in December, when the state launched the program, to $11.6 million in September.

Sales totaled $68.8 million for that time period, according to the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission.

The number of medical marijuana transactions jumped from 26,504 in December to 265,297 in September, again showing an increase every month.

At Kind Therapeutics, a growing and processing operation in Hagerstown, Director of Operations Timothy Shaw said Maryland “did a great job” of rolling out its medical cannabis program.

“It’s pretty much on pace,” he said of Kind’s business. “The patient count continues to grow. The availability continues to get better.”

Businesses have been licensed to grow, license and dispense cannabis in communities across the Crossroads Business Journal region.

Health care providers can recommend that patients receive cannabis for a variety of conditions, from anorexia and glaucoma to seizures and nausea. Most of those patients have been prescribed forms of medical cannabis for chronic pain, although patients might have been recommended based on more than one condition, according to the Cannabis Commission.

The medicine can be distributed in a variety of forms, from plant material known as “flowers” to oils, ointments and concentrates.

More than 50,000 Marylanders are registered as medical cannabis patients, according to Darrell Carrington, director of the medical cannabis division for Greenwill Consulting Group. Carrington expects that number to top 60,000 by year’s end and reach 100,000 by the end of 2019.

‘Safer than your bank’

“It’s a new industry,” Carrington said of Maryland’s medical marijuana industry. “It’s new to everyone.”

Because of that, he said, Maryland’s program is bound to go through changes in state laws and regulations.

Local codes also come into play, he said. Some communities are moving toward zoning codes that accommodate medical cannabis. Other locales are moving in the opposite direction.

While the codes are new, many of those in the industry are far from novices.

“Many of the people who have licenses now have been working at this for many years,” Carrington said.

At growing operations, like Kind in Hagerstown and Harvest of Maryland in Hancock, workers manipulate the indoor climate and lighting to “push” the plants through their life cycles.

There are many strains of cannabis with many different qualities. As the science around medical cannabis advances, he said, patients are finding that specific strains that are most effective for their specific conditions.

Patients are typically prescribed a certain quantity of the medication — say 120 grams for a 30-day supply.

Recreational marijuana use remains illegal. But Carrington said medical cannabis facilities tend to be secure operations.

“They’re safer than your bank,” he said. “You’ll see a lot of retired law enforcement (officers) in the medical cannabis industry. … We encourage our clients to look at old banks. They have vaults already there.”

In Hagerstown, the Maryland Health and Wellness Center Inc. plans to retrofit a branch bank building to house Washington County’s first medical cannabis dispensary. The business received approval to use the vault, according to Chief Operating  Officer Sean Scranton.

But it won’t use the drive-through.

‘What the market offers up’

Harvest of Maryland is operating in what was once a Fleetwood Travel Trailer facility.

“We’ve got that built out to about a third of its capacity,” said Ben Kimbro, director of public affairs for Harvest.

Based in Tempe, Ariz., Harvest holds medical cannabis licenses in nine states and participates “in a variety of ways for each facility, from full ownership and operation to design-build expertise and operational consultation,” according to its website.

Kimbro said the company tries to stay nimble in a growing and evolving industry.

“We really try to react to what the market offers up,” he said.

Taking a crop from seed to harvest takes about five months, he said. And he, too, said researchers are tracking how different conditions respond to different strains.

‘Better quality of life’

At Kind in Hagerstown, Shaw, the director of operations, said the company can make “a multitude of products” from the plants.

The company renovated what he called a “shell of a building” — a former furniture-making facility — to house the medical cannabis operation.

“I think we’ve taken an eyesore … and turned it into something that is safe and secure,” Shaw said.

He said business is going well and that Kind employs about 50.

He said patients’ receptions to the products has “been amazing,” and that Kind officials get notes from people thanking them for their work.

“The whole point of this facility is to help people, help patients, have a better life and a better quality of life,” he said.

Taking root

According to the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission website, the following medical marijuana facilities are in the Crossroads Business Journal area. (The list does not include registered providers)

ALLEGANY COUNTY

Licensed processor

• Cura Leaf Maryland LLC

Licensed dispensaries

• Allegany Medical Marijuana Dispensary

• The Apothecary LLC

FREDERICK COUNTY

Licensed growers

• Green Leaf Medical

• HMS Health LLC

Licensed processors

• Pro-Green Medical LLC

Licensed dispensaries

• Euphoria Wellness Maryland

• K & R Holdings Inc., dba Kannavis

• Wellness Institute of Maryland

WASHINGTON COUNTY

Licensed growers

• Harvest of Maryland

• Kind Therapeutics USA LLC

Licensed processor

• Kind Therapeutics USA LLC