Regulated sales of recreational marijuana begin in Maryland on Saturday, leaving retailers with only days to prepare for the launch of legal adult-use cannabis in the state.
In November, Maryland voters legalized recreational marijuana with the passage of Question 4, a state referendum that was approved with nearly two-thirds of the vote. In April, lawmakers passed legislation to regulate adult-use cannabis production and sales beginning on July 1, followed by the signing of the bill by Governor Wes Moore early last month. Under the measure, all adults in Maryland age 21 and up will be allowed to purchase regulated cannabis products including flower, vapes, gummies and more from the state’s existing medical marijuana retailers.
The legislation also changed the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, which regulated the production and sale of medical marijuana, to the Maryland Cannabis Administration. Will Tilburg, the acting director of the new agency, said that regulated sales of cannabis in Maryland are expected to triple over the next year with the advent of adult-use sales.
“There’s more than 4 million eligible consumers versus 168,000 medical patients,” Tilburg said, according to a report in local media.
Meg Nash, a partner at the cannabis and psychedelics law firm Vicente LLP, praised Maryland’s lawmakers and regulators for their quick action to implement adult-use cannabis legalization.
“Maryland’s swift implementation of its adult-use cannabis program is remarkable, and will hopefully serve as a model for other states that share the policy goals of increased access to safe cannabis products and to deterring participation in the unregulated industry,” Nash wrote in an email to High Times. “The Maryland Cannabis Administration shows no signs of slowing down, as a new licensing round that will be exclusively available to social equity applicants is expected to be announced in the coming months, with new licensees selected via lottery before the end of the year.”
Medical Marijuana Companies Prepare for New Customers
The impending start of licensed recreational marijuana sales in Maryland has prompted the state’s licensed medical marijuana providers to prepare for the influx of new customers expected with the legalization of adult-use cannabis. Jake Van Wingerden, the owner of SunMed Growers in rural Cecil County, told the Baltimore Sun that he and his staff of 150 workers have been busy harvesting and processing marijuana products to prepare for the upcoming launch of recreational marijuana sales in Maryland.
“We cranked it up,” Van Wingerden said of the company’s production. “We believe that demand will skyrocket for those first couple months.”
The company has been stockpiling cannabis flower for Saturday’s launch and added an extra shift for packaging cannabis products. SunMed has also purchased new delivery vehicles and built a $16 million, 25,000-square-foot facility to make weed edibles.
Maryland MMJ Legalized in 2014
Maryland legalized medical marijuana in 2014 and regulated sales began in 2017. The state’s adult-use cannabis legalization bill allows medical marijuana operators to pay a fee to upgrade their license to serve recreational customers, a provision that was added to the legislation to ensure a swift launch of regulated sales. When purchases of adult-use cannabis begin on Saturday, approximately 100 medical marijuana dispensaries across the state will be ready to serve recreational marijuana customers.
Maryland state Delegate C.T. Wilson led efforts in the legislature to legalize cannabis for adults. Drafting the legislation presented challenges, he says, because lawmakers wanted to ensure a smooth transition to the regulated market. They also wanted to establish a market with wide availability and low prices to challenge the success of the illicit cannabis economy. Another aim was to avoid the racial disparity seen in Maryland’s medical marijuana industry, which is dominated by white-owned companies.
“The goal, again, is to make sure this is fair and equitable,” Wilson said. “But we need to have product available on the market July 1.”
In addition to allowing the state’s medical marijuana operators to serve adult-use customers, the cannabis regulation bill passed in April includes social equity provisions to encourage diverse ownership in the industry. Van Wingerden applauded the state’s lawmakers for their swift work to regulate adult-use cannabis that saw the legislation drafted and passed less than six months after voters ended the prohibition on recreational marijuana.
“It’s a heavy lift and they did it fairly quickly. Hats off to the General Assembly and the people behind the scenes,” he said. “They got it all done and I think it’s going to be a model for the rest of the country.”
Mitch Trellis of medical cannabis operator Remedy said that the company’s dispensaries in Baltimore County and Columbia are larger than most medical marijuana retailers, with each store featuring more than 9,000 square feet, a minimum of 20 cash registers and parking lots that can accommodate hundreds of cars. Typically, the dispensaries serve 300 to 600 patients daily. But when recreational marijuana sales begin on Saturday, the number of customers served each day could climb as high as 2,000.
“Expect long lines at most places. It’s going to be hot,” he said. “People are definitely excited.”
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