The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission is stumbling and bumbling its way toward creating a medical marijuana system for the state, after more than four years of on-again, off-again efforts.
The commission vaguely promises that it will have a workable system with licensed marijuana growers, processors and sellers sometime soon. Maybe this summer? Maybe this fall? Who knows?
This is an outrage.
The commission has failed miserably in its sole mission, which was to help people in this state afflicted with chronic and disabling pain to gain legal access to a medicine that might be able to help them.
The commission was created by the Maryland General Assembly, which dictated a cumbersome, complicated system to control cannabis, lest marijuana somehow “fall into the wrong hands.” That is not the stated goal of the commission, but it is implicit in its work.
The law requires cannabis to be grown in Maryland and processed in Maryland before it can be sold in Maryland.
The commission is supposed to grant a license to grow the cannabis plants, a different license to process the cannabis into medically effective pills, oils and other products, and then still a third license to sell the products to the patients. Some businesses have applied for all three licenses.
Why was it done this way? To protect Maryland, ostensibly. But many critics have strong suspicions that the unstated goal was to assure that politically connected individuals would be at the front of the line to collect millions of dollars in profits when the marijuana business is fully legalized sometime in the near future. The Washington Post last year identified lawmakers, local officials, law enforcement officers, prominent business people, and people with strong political connections among those seeking licenses.
We have no position yet on full legalization of the drug. There are good arguments in favor and against. But it is very clear that the state system has completely and totally failed for more than three long years to deliver these drugs to people struggling with chronic pain. More than 6,500 patients have registered to receive the drug when it’s available.
Anyone who neither lives in near-constant pain, nor is related to someone who does, cannot understand what unremitting pain does to a body, and to a life. It can rob the patient of joy, and limit her to mere existence.
And here, with medical marijuana, we have a safe and effective drug that has helped so many patients ease their suffering. Maryland lawmakers accepted this as a fact when they approved use of the drug in 2013.
An analysis by the advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project found Maryland to be among the slowest states to get its cannabis program up and running, The Washington Post reported last year.
This inevitably leads to a most terrible realization: We have had a tool in medical marijuana to help alleviate the opioid crisis in this state, and we have allowed it to sit unused for three years, while the cannabis commission has dithered.
Many if not most people addicted to opioids were prescribed them as pain killers. They became addicted to a prescription drug, and when the prescriptions ran out, started using street drugs such as heroin.
How much better off they would have been if they could have been prescribed medical marijuana for pain relief in the first place? No evidence exists that medical marijuana leads to opioid addiction. How many lives might have been saved, and how many families might still be intact?
The commission cannot redeem itself for four years of nonfeasance, but it still could speed the process of putting pain relief into the hands of those who need it so desperately.