Maryland legalized medical cannabis in 2013, and Governor Martin O'Malley signed House Bill 881 establishing the requisite infrastructure the following year. But it wasn't until December 2017 that the program actually launched, subsequent to a few controversies surrounding license selection.
In 2021, the Maryland House of Delegates announced a plan to put a referendum to legalize recreational cannabis for adults in front of voters in 2022. An October 2021 poll conducted by Goucher College found a solid majority of 60 percent in favor of legalization.
It would be the culmination of nearly a decade of reform. Possession of up to 10 grams of cannabis was decriminalized in 2014, and it became a civil infraction on par with a traffic ticket. Maryland General Assembly overrode a veto by Governor Larry Hogan in 2017 to decriminalize both cannabis paraphernalia and smoking cannabis in public. Both are now civil offenses.
There's a good reason for that: As of 2010, Maryland had the nation's fifth-highest arrest rate for cannabis possession. Black people were three times more likely than whites to be arrested.
As of late 2017, the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission had authorized 14 growers, 12 processors, and nine dispensaries in the state, along with 550 healthcare providers and 8,500 patients.
By September 2019, Maryland had licensed 18 growers and 82 dispensaries to sell to about 70,000 registered patients.The number of patients increased to nearly 124,000 by the end of 2020, with more than 2,000 healthcare providers registered to certify them.
The patient count eclipsed 140,000 -- more than 2 percent of the Old Line State's population (6.2 million) -- in September 2021.
Monthly dispensary sales have ranged from roughly $42 million to $49 million in 2021. Based on a monthly average of $47 million, the extrapolation for the annual total for 2021: $564 million, up from about $250 million in 2019.
A pilot program attracted 100 farms after launching in 2018, and an estimated 1,400 acres of hemp crops were planted in 2019.
The Maryland Department of Agriculture adopted new regulations in 2020 that brought the state's industrial hemp program into compliance with the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill to establish industrial hemp as an agricultural commodity. After the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the Maryland State Hemp Production Plan, it went into effect on November 1, 2020.
Maryland growers have been applying to participate in two programs: the Maryland Hemp Farming Program (launched in 2021) or the Maryland Hemp Research Pilot Program (slated for 2022 in partnership with an institution of higher learning or the Maryland Department of Agriculture).
There is currently no limit to the number of growers or acres under cultivation in either of the programs.
Eric Peterson is editor of CompanyWeek and the Cannabis Manufacturing Report. Reach him at email@example.com.