It’s been over two years since Maryland officially decriminalized medical marijuana and patients are still relying on the illicit market. The Free State’s medicinal cannabis program is finally taking shape with the first round of licensing pre-approval for 102 dispensaries selected from a pool of over 800 applicants.
Maryland recently took another step towards a working medical marijuana program with their announcement of the preliminary round or pre-approvals for cannabis dispensary licenses. This development came not a moment too soon for patients and providers struggling under a delayed timeline for the program, which was signed into law in 2014.
Of the 811 applicants for licenses 102 were pre-approved. Among them, Peninsula Alternative Health, which will be located on the Eastern Shore.
Mary Pat Hoffman, the Clinical Director for the dispensary, said her commitment to providing alternative healthcare options motivates her involvement in the burgeoning program, despite considerable delays and obstacles.
“I’ve had a passion and vested interest for years, and when I heard it was on the radar in Maryland, I jumped in,” Hoffman said. “Hopefully in a year it’ll be a regular medication, and if patients have questions, we can make them feel empowered and comfortable in our dispensary.”
Now she’ll be on the ground floor of a medical program that will offer thousands of Marylanders the medicine they need legally.
Since the announcement of the license pre-approvals, Hoffman has spoken publicly about how the evidence for medical marijuana has only grown since she first earned her doctorate in pharmacy almost 20 years ago. She told Cannabis Now that, especially compared to many commonly used pharmaceuticals, cannabis is incredibly safe medicine.
“It’s crazy what goes down on a prescription notepad,” she said. “And how cannabis has been around for centuries and it’s still not accepted as a medicine.”
Fighting the stigma
Cultivating a positive brand image can be an uphill battle for cannabis companies in the face of lingering stereotypes. Hoffman said for that reason, the dispensary will look and operate like a “regular” medical center.
“We are a beach town, and some people think it’ll look like one of the candy kitchens we have down here,” she said. “By operating within a medical model, we are confident that effectively partnering with our patients in the judicious use of medicinal cannabis will improve our patients’ overall quality of life.”
Hoffman is grateful and excited as she looks forward to the work that still needs to be accomplished to get her state’s medical marijuana program running as soon as possible. Her aim is to make Peninsula Alternative Health a comfortable, and safe space for patients to ask about their therapy options with cannabis – a foreign concept for many who are unfamiliar with recent research on the endocannabinoid system.
“Collectively, we will be a trusted resource for our patients, their families, and their primary care providers,” she said.
Educating a new class
For Hoffman, medical cannabis is much more than a business. As Clinical Director of Peninsula, she’s dedicated to being a pillar of her community, especially when it comes to education.
Hoffman is trailblazing in the world of cannabis education at the university level. She’s preparing for her first day as a teacher of the new cannabis elective offered at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) School of Pharmacy.
Peninsula partnered with one of Hoffman’s former college professor to offer the elective. Her dispensary will also serve as a preceptor school for the college students to obtain accredited hours of on-the-job experience.
Hoffman said her goal is to see students graduate without associating cannabis with any stigma, and instead, associating it with medicine.
“I will expose students to this plant as a medicine,” she said. “My class is basic enough for a decent understanding of the history, as well as the legal, and ethical issues.”
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