Photo via O'Dea

Four years after being legalized, medical cannabis is finally available for registered patients in Maryland today. Ten dispensaries in the state have at last been cleared to open their doors and serve more than 8,000 patients who have been approved to use medical marijuana. “It’s really the start of the culmination of a four-year journey for us,” Bill Askinazi, owner of Potomac Holistics, one of the first dispensaries to open, told WAMU.

Maryland's medical cannabis program has been beset with legal battles, leadership shakeups, and organizational issues that have caused seemingly endless delays. The state's program was first delayed by a lack of funding for the licensing commission, but further delays were caused by several lawsuits accusing the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC) of failing to consider racial diversity as well as not following the rules of own their licensing process.

The MMCC has also suffered a number of leadership changes, with two directors resigning in the past two years. Former director Hannah Byron resigned in January 2016, leaving the program without a director until Patrick Jameson took the job in April 2016. Jameson announced his resignation last month, and worked his last day this week, leaving the program without a director just as sales begin. Last summer, Gov. Larry Hogan also replaced ten of the MMCC's 16 members, adding two additional minority members.

Eventually, the state will have 15 processors, 15 growers, and 102 dispensaries to serve the 13,000 people who have applied to become registered medical cannabis users. State law requires all of the dispensaries to be ready for operation by December 8th, but the MMCC is still reviewing final applications, and have only approved ten dispensaries to open so far.

Phil Goldberg, president of the Maryland Cannabis Industry Association and a licensed grower, told WAMU that the delays were frustrating but ultimately worthwhile. “Several other states already had medical cannabis programs. They were really Wild, Wild West,” he said. “Maryland took a long time to get their regulations together, but it’s because it’s a really well-thought-out program.”

Askinazi told WAMU that he is expecting a massive demand now that he has finally been approved to begin selling cannabis products. “We’re probably going to put in quotas, so that everybody won’t get as much as they want or need, but they’ll get something,” he explained. Despite the constant delays, Askinazi said that his business is “excited to be pioneers in this cannabis industry,” and even “more excited to see how many people we can help, and how we're going to help them.”