Cannabis on demand is already a reality for some patients at the Wellness Institute of Maryland, a Frederick dispensary that recently launched one of the state’s first home delivery services for medical marijuana.
The Wellness Institute — the first licensed dispensary in Maryland — had always planned to include home delivery as part of its services, said owner Mike Klein.
Staff members held off on launching the program until medical cannabis became available in Maryland at the beginning of December. In mid-January, the business sent out a questionnaire to assess how many clients might be interested in home delivery service.
“About 250 folks responded to it, and a number of them were patients with very serious illnesses, essentially, who were bed-bound or homebound,” Klein said. “Our mission is access for patients without access, so being able to provide home delivery is one of the things that’s important to accomplish that.”
Despite the emphasis on critically ill patients, the service will not be limited to customers who are unable to travel to the dispensary. Home delivery could also serve patients without reliable transportation, or with jobs that prevent them from visiting the Wellness Institute during business hours.
Even an unwillingness to publicly purchase cannabis could qualify patients for the service, Klein added.
“That might include someone who — for either business reasons or employment reasons or maybe even societal reasons — wouldn’t want to walk into a dispensary where their neighbors might see them,” he said. “We’re trying to take a practical view and say, ‘Does this patient need it?’ And if they do, we provide it.”
The Code of Maryland Regulations — or COMAR — does not limit any patients from receiving home delivery, said Mike Rothman, the founder and principal attorney for the Medical Cannabis Law Group in Rockville. State law requires only that the patients or caregivers who accept the delivery are registered with the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission.
Dispensary agents must also take steps to confirm that a patient is registered and received a written certification from a physician registered with the commission. Patients can receive only 4 ounces of cannabis a month, Klein said, though most doses are significantly lower.
While medical or recreational marijuana is now legal in 30 states and Washington, D.C., only a handful have allowed home delivery services, said Dr. Paul Bregman, a founder of Medical Cannabis Consulting LLC in Denver.
Those include California, where recreational marijuana became legal on Jan. 1, but not Colorado, one of the first states to legalize recreational pot in 2012.
“I think it is important to note that this service is not available everywhere,” Bregman said. “But, in my opinion, it can be a good thing, if done properly. The number one thing is ease of use and access for people with disabilities or chronic illness or severe pain. Number two is just the fact of convenience. It’s like Chinese food. Why go out for it if you can have it delivered?”
According to Klein, the company has made just over 20 deliveries to patients across central and western Maryland. The service is concentrated in the Frederick area, but drivers have also made trips to Carroll and Anne Arundel counties.
Service expanded to Hagerstown last week.
“The majority of our patients are referred to us by medical doctors, and, of course, the doctors are located all throughout the state,” Klein said. “We expect, at least, to deliver throughout all of central Maryland. But that may be six months to a year from now, if we’re comfortable reaching out that far from home.”
The service is free for patients who schedule a delivery at least once a month. The first delivery is free for all patients, Klein added.
Customers also go through a consultation with a company pharmacist to discuss their medical needs and the most appropriate product for them. Payment is cash-only, but they have the option to prepay for the medication or hand over the money at the time of delivery.
Klein declined to comment on the vehicles used to transport the product. But he did emphasize that the company established extensive security measures, which — under state regulations — must ensure that the cannabis is secured at all times during transportation.
Those security measures include random routing and random timing for deliveries to ensure that the vehicles can’t be tracked by any observant criminals. The company’s security team has ongoing contact with the vehicles, and they’re also equipped with cameras and GPS, Klein added.
The delivery drivers are full-time employees who are registered with the commission as qualified “dispensary agents.” The workers undergo a criminal background check, continuing drug testing and must have a valid state driver’s license.
Klein requires that his delivery drivers have 30 annual hours of continuing education on medical cannabis, company procedures and state regulations. Registered dispensary agents are also required to have an up-to-date identification card on them at all times during the delivery, said Brittany Fowler, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Health.
“The requirements are fairly extensive,” Rothman said. “You can’t be any Joe Schmoe driving around with a trunk full of weed.”
Despite the state regulations, news of the service was unwelcome to Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins, who expressed reservations over home deliveries and medical cannabis overall.
The sheriff’s office wasn’t aware that the Wellness Institute had already implemented the service, he said. But the program, in his mind, could lead to an increase in crime, or confusion on the part of deputies over how to uphold state laws.
“Of course there’s the potential for strong-armed robberies and other crimes as they’re transporting the stuff to and from the facility,” Jenkins said. “And from a law enforcement standpoint, what if the driver isn’t carrying any kind of ID, or we stop a patient, who is not required to carry a card?”
“They need to straighten out some of those details,” he continued. “All I can say is that we’re going to go ahead and charge the person accordingly if we can’t verify them, depending on the amount. We’re just going to enforce the laws as they’re written.”