Three years later, those same untrained volunteers have become closely watched regulators who have presided over the rocky launch of
Not even half of the preliminary licenses have been awarded, and the process is already mired in a lawsuit and ethics probe. The lack of diversity among licensees has drawn the ire of black lawmakers, including one who pushed to create the program.
"This should have been done completely different," said Del.
Glenn and the
Many problems cited by critics of the commission stem from how the
"We were like, 'holy [expletive], we have to write regulations,'" said former commissioner
In the past decade,
When lawmakers legalized casinos in 2007, they added four paid members to the existing five-member
When lawmakers created the medical marijuana program, they gave an existing volunteer panel a rough framework of rules,
Architects of the medical marijuana law said they were pushing for a public policy change and didn't think of it as an economic enterprise that required heavy regulation.
"The overriding motivation was to get medical marijuana to really sick people," said Sen.
Industry experts say
At the same time, what was once an emerging market run by advocates has now attracted venture capitalists and big-dollar investors.
The legal cannabis research group New Frontier Data estimates
By 2024, New Frontier estimates, the legal pot industry will generate
With casinos, policymakers had a clear sense of the financial stakes, something that wasn't extensively discussed during the medical marijuana debate.
"There was widespread understanding of how lucrative the [casino] industry would be, and how sophisticated the operators were," said
That law called for a group of 16 stakeholders to develop regulations to oversee the process, and designated spots on the commission for patient advocates, pharmacists, nurses, doctors and law enforcement.
The commission's vice chairman,
"I went to my first meeting, and I told everyone that I didn't know what they were talking about," Robshaw recalled last week. "Some classes or training on how to write regulations might have been helpful. ... Even just a primer on writing regulations would have been really helpful in getting this done."
Before the panel had finished writing their first set of rules, lawmakers declared the medical marijuana program a failure because no academic centers volunteered to participate. Just one other state --
In 2014, the
"Clearly there have been problems on the commission, and there have been a number of unanticipated issues that definitely need to be resolved," said Raskin, a constitutional law professor who is now running for
The panel formed to write rules to oversee academic centers was now instead charged with a much bigger job -- dealing with entrepreneurs and their investors, setting fees, developing an application and picking winners in what became an intensely competitive process.
"Once the regulations were written, though, was when we began to realize that we were a regulatory agency," Robshaw said. "We didn't hire any consultants at all. We used the resources that were available. ... We had to figure it all out ourselves as we went along."
The commission estimated that they would get about 300 applications for the limited number of licenses. They got more than 1,100.
Industry experts say the intense interest was driven by simple economics, since the program limits the supply of marijuana but created a potentially broad base of demand. The law limits growing licenses to 15, but allows a wide range of ailments to be treated with marijuana and a range of medical providers to recommend it.
The crush of applications delayed the program by months and increased the cost of reviewing them nearly five-fold. Commissioners had decided to create a "double-blind" system to grade and rank the applications, and they hired the
"The legislature put a pretty low limit on a very valuable license, and then they asked a bunch of volunteers to decide who gets them," said
"I don't think they felt qualified to do that, so they outsourced it to a group, which then outsourced it again," she said.
The process led two companies who didn't receive a preliminary grower's license to file a lawsuit. GTI Maryland and Maryland Cultivation and Processing say the commission improperly bumped them out of the winning group, as ranked by RESI.
And one of the other chief architects of the law, Del.
Bell said that in most states, health departments oversee medical marijuana regulation. The patchwork of laws varies greatly, and in many states there are concerns about public employees facing federal drug charges because they were paid to help distribute marijuana, Bell said.
Other medical professions in
"The legislature felt like it was the way to do it," said Sharfstein, former health secretary.
The medical marijuana law required the commission to be self-funded. Next year, it is expected to take in more than more than
As the applications were under review this spring, one of the commission's two paid staffers, director
There were "layers of internal deficiencies and weaknesses" executive director
"Where is the commission and program going to be in five years?" he asked.
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