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Md. issuing medical marijuana license apps

Posted: 8:56 AM, Sep 30, 2015
Updated: 2015-09-30 08:56:52-04

Tucked away in western Maryland sits the small town of Cumberland. 

"There's a lot of neat stuff here. It's amazing," said Casey Callister, pointing to a few empty buildings as he strolled down the brick sidewalk.

It's in this community, and farmlands beyond, that Callister hopes to open a dispensary and grow medical marijuana. 

"I think if we could get more than our fair share of these farms and dispensaries and processing, anyway, to western Maryland, it really could spark the economy here," he said. 

The Air Force veteran already purchased property in Alleghany County where he's hoping to grow the medicine. It's a process, that for Callister, has been more than nine months in the making. 

"We'd have to install a vault as well," he said, pointing to the back corner of an empty room. He spent the afternoon searching for a building with potential to become a dispensary. 

Tara Blaise, a close friend and fellow dispensary applicant, joined Callister as he looked for the perfect location. Blaise hopes to open a dispensary of her own in the Takoma Park area. 

"When a mom will come in to me and tell me that their kid is not having seizures anymore, it'll be a tremendous moment for me," she said. 

Blaise and Callister aren't alone. Alleghany County Commissioners say Callister's is one of roughly eight companies that have expressed interest in growing medical marijuana in their area, well before any applications to do so were made available. 

"There is interest all across the state: Western Maryland, Eastern Shore and everywhere in between," said Executive Director of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, Hannah Byron. 

Byron says her office heard from around 20-30 companies before applications were posted. 

"We certainly know that there has been a lot of interest all across the state, so we see a very robust application period," Byron said. 

She says her staff devoted the past 18 months to creating regulations that became effective in mid September.

"We think that we have, and we have been told that we have, a real model across the country," she said.

They used the statutes passed by the General Assembly as their roadmap, calling the regulations "complex." The regulations are calling for things like testing for potency, purity, and microbiology and having independent samplings. They also require growers to have alarm and surveillance systems for all structures and to document the entire process. 

"We get calls and emails regularly from patients asking us when it will be available for themselves or their loved ones, because there are so many conditions that really benefit from the use of medical cannabis," Byron said. 

For Callister, it's a message that hits close to home. 

"It's rather personal for me. My dad has stage four bone cancer," he said. 

He says plans to open his own farm and dispensary could drastically change the treatments for his father. 

"He's been poked and prodded for so many years that who knows whether he will actually end up using this, but I've been trying to convince him because I think it'll make the rest of his years better," Callister said. 

Byron says it's still a long road ahead even after the applications are available. They're aiming to award up to 15 growers licenses by mid December to mid January. 

It's a long road that Callister hopes one day leads from his farm to dispensary. 

"I cannot wait for that day that I can bring my dad into the facility and give him the medicine," he said.

The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission will award two dispensary licenses per senatorial district. The licenses will need to be renewed every two years for the first two years, and then every four years after that. 

The In Focus team spoke to Bill Valentine, President of the Alleghany County Board of Commissioners. He says their team is supportive of medical marijuana and says they have heard from eight companies who are looking to grow medical cannabis and two who want to open dispensaries in the area. Valentine says the companies will have to make sure they are within the correct zoning regulations. Besides bringing some new jobs to the area, Valentine doesn't think that bringing medical cannabis farms or dispensaries will make a big impact on downtown businesses. 

The deadline to submit an application for a license is November 6.