Governor Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. has recently announced that medical cannabis essential businesses will remain operational as long as the pandemic is occurring, said Maryland Matters. This was implemented through an executive order and seeks to preserve the measures taken to protect medical marijuana patients, especially those who are immuno-compromised.
At a joint meeting of the House of Appropriations and Health Operations subcommittees, Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC) executive order William Tilburg said, “We thought that made it even more important that we implemented all precautions necessary to protect patients who are vulnerable, primarily in vulnerable populations.”
Maryland Matters noted that many medical cannabis patients are immune-compromised, which makes it necessary for the state to impose rules that can help minimize their risks of exposure by reducing the need for in-person contacts. Some of these measures include telemedicine and marijuana deliveries.
Tilburg admitted that the subcommittees were “hesitant to move forward with the telehealth” as cannabis remains to be illegal on the federal level under the Controlled Substances Act, making it a schedule one narcotic just like LSD and heroin. The report noted that Maryland legislation does not outline standards regarding conditions that qualify for a medical cannabis prescription.
Tilburg added, “it’s in the professional judgment of provider – if the benefits outweigh the risk and there’s been… alternative treatment[s], and they haven’t been effective.”
Aside from telemedicine and deliveries, the state also placed other measures during the pandemic such as removing the requirement for receipt signatures, requiring protective gear and protocol for in-store visits, contactless and curbside pickups, authorizing more dispensaries for deliveries, virtual compliance inspections, and drive-thru window prescription refills.
The MMCC through Tilburg said that it is considering retaining pandemic measures after the public health crisis. While the commission was doubtful at first as there were fears about an increase in criminal activity. However, a public meeting convinced them that there are benefits to this move. At least three policies could remain namely curbside delivery, drive-thru, and expanded delivery.
Tilburg told the subcommittees, “There have been no incidents. Overwhelmingly from all stakeholders was ‘this is a good thing.’ For particularly those that are maybe at a heightened risk for having serious issues with COVID or have limited access or ability to move for some reason or another.”
Currently, the MMCC is working with over 120,000 medical marijuana patients, which shows a 30% increase from 2019 figures. This affected the cannabis industry positively, with a significantly increased from 2019 up to so far in 2020. Sales spiked from $252 million last year to over $423 million as of this writing.
According to Tilburg, expects the state’s industry to reach $450 million by the end of the year. This is possible because the MMCC allowing more health care providers to write prescriptions, letting them write more than 2,000. This is made possible by a law passed in October that allowed physician assistants to apply for the ability to write prescriptions and certifications to patients. The law also expanded safe access to medical cannabis in Maryland.
Accessing Cannabis in Maryland
As mentioned above, the state allows for different ways to purchase marijuana. Medical marijuana patients can get their supplies through safely accessible methods such as home deliveries, curbside pickups, and telemedicine for renewals.
Aside from telehealth to provide written certifications and renewals, the MMCC also allows an extension of registrations that expired during the pandemic. This extension is valid for 30 days after the state of emergency ends. The state also placed measures to make sure that all parts of the cannabis supply chain are operational throughout the emergency.
To make it safer for patients to access medical marijuana, the state also allows them to visit their preferred dispensary. However, it is important to remember that stores are required to impose social distancing of around six feet. Every individual in a licensed premise, including patients, agents, and caregivers, are required to observe this protocol.
Moreover, dispensary staff members are required to sanitize every touched surface such as tables, doorknobs, handles, desks, light switches, faucets, and sinks. Licensed stores are required to keep a log of every cleaning to record each instance. Deli-style sales and sniff jars are also prohibited.
The MMCC conducts virtual inspections of licensed stores to ensure that they comply with social distancing rules.
According to the Licensee Social Distancing Requirements (2020-08) released by the commission, “In the event that a Commission inspector has a ‘reasonable suspicion of conditions that create a risk to the public health’ COMAR 10.62.33.06 authorizes the inspector to (1) suspend the distribution of some or all medical cannabis from the licensed premises (2) order the immediate evacuation of the premises and seal the entry door, or (3) quarantine some or all medical cannabis.”
Attestation is also suspended until further notice. In the past, patients and caregivers are required to complete an attestation.
These protocols are important to minimize risks of exposure to ensure that patients and all other individuals in the dispensary are safe during the pandemic. However, some protocols can stay even after this public health crisis. The MMCC is considering retaining some of these measures including on-site and curbside deliveries, as well as drive-thru services.
It is important to note that rules can change or measures can be retained depending on the situation as states continue to modify their regulations in order to fit the situations caused by the pandemic. Just keep in mind that safely accessing marijuana remains to be an important part of health measures, so you will need to observe these protocols in the future.
Aside from Maryland, different states across the United States impose different measures to help contain the spread of the virus while allowing patients to access medical marijuana.
The expansion of cannabis services in Maryland is good news to medical marijuana patients. With various considerations given to patients and dispensaries, the MMCC hopes to provide a safer experience for patients, especially when it comes to purchasing and using such products.