Will Maryland MMJ Have a Sufficient Patient Pool?

Anirban Basu, chairman and chief executive officer of Sage Policy Group, a Baltimore economic and policy consulting firm, reportedly sees a bright future for medical marijuana in Maryland, describing it as a “new multimillion-dollar industry … that will create hundreds of jobs.”

Philip Goldberg, President-elect of the Maryland Cannabis Industry Association has named a similar number, believing that medical marijuana could ultimately be a $225 million business in the state. This confidence and the hopes of those who intend to apply for licenses in the fall are built on optimistic assumptions about the size of the potential patient pool.

The optimism may be justified, but industry watchers were shaken recently when Delaware’s medical marijuana program rolled out with just 344 registered patients and Minnesota’s debuted with 65 legal patients. Why should Maryland be different?

Maryland’s proposed regulations call for 15 cultivation centers, up to 94 dispensaries and an unlimited number of processors. Licenses would likely be pre-approved in December 2015 or January 2016, and the program is expected to be fully operational next summer.

Goldberg, whose Green Leaf Medical LLC expects to apply for a cultivation license, told MJINews that there are several reasons to believe that demand will be enough to support a robust industry. First, “Maryland has one of the broadest lists of conditions that can be treated with medical cannabis. Having a broad list of conditions means that a higher percentage of patients in Maryland will have access to medical cannabis and an increase in patient numbers ensures a stable and lasting program.”

Second, Maryland has a larger population than Delaware or Colorado, where more than 700 producers have flooded the market and sent prices crashing. Plummeting prices may be good news for consumers, but chronic oversupply can destabilize an industry. Analysts see less risk in a bigger state with a tightly controlled number of growers.

Goldberg also noted that, “The Maryland Cannabis Commission has removed the requirement that patients be residents of Maryland. This opens up our Maryland cannabis program to the tens of thousands of out of state patients that seek treatment in Maryland hospitals each year.” If this ultimately opens the door to medical marijuana reciprocity, a nationwide patient pool could be a huge boon to dispensaries.

Finally, Goldberg cited the importance of  advocacy groups such as Patients Out of Time, StoptheSeizures.org, and MedChi, the Maryland State Medical Society, all of which were instrumental in keeping the medical marijuana issue before the legislature.

Gail Rand, whose testimony in support of cannabis as a potentially effective treatment for childhood epilepsy told MJINews that the “crux of the success of the program is going to be how open minded physicians are going to be to recommend cannabis to their patients.” Carissa Cartalemi, CEO and Co-Founder of Maryland Remedy, a Baltimore startup eyeing a dispensary license, agreed, “Doctor and patient education is the key to maintaining the numbers necessary to support the industry.”

But traditional medical education does not train doctors and nurses to deal with cannabis as medicine. In Maryland, health care professionals have begun to organize themselves around the issue. MedChi offers cannabis information and resources to member doctors. The American Cannabis Nurses Association provides education and assistance “to introduce a medical component to the dispensary model,” according to Dawn Marie Merrill, a former member of the Board of Directors. Empowering patients and health care providers to consider cannabis as a treatment option supports both good health and a healthy industry.

Can Maryland’s medical marijuana industry attract investment? The limitation on the number of growers and the ability to treat out of state patients bodes well. Ultimately, however, the momentum toward patient and health care provider education may be at least as important.

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