Maryland has been moving towards a functional medical marijuana program at a glacial pace since 2014. Now some patients are falling victim to a scam that takes advantage of patients’ anxiety about that long delay.
Here’s the good news: Maryland’s long-awaited medical marijuana legislation will likely go into effect next year, providing much-needed relief for residents of the Old Line State that are suffering from a series of conditions ranging from chronic pain to seizures and eating disorders.
But here’s the less-than-savory news: along the way, the state has hit an embarrassing number of roadblocks and setbacks; the most recent of which is a rash of attempts to scam Marylanders into purchasing illegitimate “marijuana cards” or to sign up for “pre-approval.”
Beyond the Trump University-level sleaziness of stealing people’s money, the scammers have further de-legitimized the medical marijuana industry in a state where the legislation is already wobbling on thin ice.
In April 2014, Governor Martin O’Malley signed twin medical marijuana bills HB 881 and SB 923 into law. Since then, the state has set up the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC) to regulate the burgeoning industry and to issue preliminary licenses for companies to grow, process and dispense cannabis in the state.
Yet none of the businesses have actually received bona fide licenses yet, nor have they begun doing business. Furthermore, no doctors are currently able to issue certifications for medical cannabis.
As a result, Patrick Jameson, executive director of the MMCC, said any service currently offering marijuana cards in the state is completely illegitimate.
“This type of fraudulent activity preys against the most vulnerable people in society and we will do everything possible to stop this behavior,” Jameson said. “Only patient identification cards issued by the Commission are legitimate. At this point no ID cards have been issued.”
According to data from the MMCC, there have already been 20 reports of scamming businesses sprouting up across the state.
Darrell Carrington, executive director of the Maryland Cannabis Industry Association, says the long delay has left many patients in a vulnerable state, which the scammers are exploiting.
“They’re taking advantage of [potential patients] because people are so desperate for the medication,” Carrington said.
The rise of scamming is only the latest in a series of troubles that have plagued the commission. One of the most worrisome was a finding in August 2016, following the release of the list of the businesses to receive preliminary licenses, that the commission did not “actively seek to achieve ethnic [and] racial diversity” as required by law.
According to the Washington Post, of the 15 companies offered preliminary licenses to grow marijuana, zero are owned by African-Americans. In a state that is 1/3 African-American, the statistic was damning, although not terribly surprising considering the nationwide whitewashing of the industry.
In response, the legislative Black Caucus has announced it is committed to introducing emergency legislation for 2017 to hopefully bring more diversity to the list of operating businesses.
Beyond these egregious roadblocks to legislation, Maryland has also had to ward off attempts within its state government to re-criminalize cannabis possession; in 2016, bill HB 777 actually passed the House of Delegates before getting shot down by the less brain-dead State Senate. Furthermore, Maryland “does not allow patients to grow their own medicine, although if they are arrested for possession, they can rely on an ‘affirmative defense,’” according to the Marijuana Policy Project.
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