CannaBuzz: Maryland Senate committee greenlights cannabis bills

By Van Smith

Baltimore, March 5, 2019

The Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee (JPC) yesterday gave thumbs up to three cannabis bills, while the first Maryland House of Delegates-approved cannabis bill of the General Assembly session – to add more licensed professionals who can certify medical-cannabis patients, which passed overwhelmingly, 122-14, on Feb. 15 – awaits its consideration.

Senate Bill 97 seeks to prevent licensed gun-owners from losing Second Amendment rights should they join Maryland’s medical-cannabis program. The JPC gave it unanimous approval, with bipartisan sponsorship by members Michael Hough (R-District 4, Carroll and Frederick counties), Justin Ready (R-District 5, Carroll County), Chris West (R-District 42, Baltimore County), and chair Bobby Zirkin (D-District 11, Baltimore County).

Senate Bill 858 aims to boost cannabis-related academic research by providing access to medical cannabis to licensed researchers. Sponsored by JPC chair Zirkin, it too received unanimous committee approval.

Senate Bill 860 would resolve a nettlesome matter for the state’s corrections community – both inmates and officials – by establishing that certified medical-cannabis patients’ supervision, probation, or parole can’t be revoked for lawful use of medical cannabis.

All three JPC-approved bills next go to Senate floor vote.

The JPC also yesterday gave thumbs down to two bills: Senate Bill 86, which sought to assure that possession of weed, medical or not, stays illegal in correctional settings, including for offenders still on probation; and Senate Bill 855, which would have required corrections officials to provide inmates with access to the state’s medical-cannabis program.

 

 

CannaBuzz: Maryland cannabis patients’ gun-rights bill draws no opposition

By Van Smith

Baltimore, Feb. 28, 2019

Many Marylanders considering certification as medical cannabis patients balk once they learn they would sacrifice firearms rights as a result, according to Maryland Senate testimony on Tuesday by Robert Davis, an Eastern Shore pharmacist and dispensary clinical director.

“It is keeping away at least 20 to 30 percent of potential certified patients from joining the system,” Davis told the Judicial Proceedings Committee (JPC). “People are scared to lose their guns, to have someone knocking at their door,” Davis continued, so they “are still utilizing the black market” to obtain cannabis.

A bipartisan bill would cure this conundrum, assuring that, if passed into the law, cannabis certification could no longer be a disqualification for licensed gun ownership. Republican state Sen. Michael Hough (District 4, Carroll and Frederick counties), who is joined by JPC chair Bobby Zirkin (D-District 11, Baltimore County) in sponsoring Senate Bill 97, told the committee the measure would “change Maryland’s laws to reflect the simple truth that medicine that people are prescribed should not be used to discriminate them from practicing their Second Amendment rights.”

If opposition to the bill exists, no one at the hearing rose to testify against it.

Eric Stamper, who described himself as a Maryland medical-cannabis patient with 23 years in the U.S. Navy under his belt, told the committee that “the government has spent a lot of money to train me” in weaponry, and yet “I’ve lost my Second Amendment rights.”

Olivia Naugle, legislative coordinator for pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project, told the committee that patients “should not have to choose between their civil right and their human right to treat their pain or illness.” She also seconded a point that Hough had made – that use of prescribed drugs more dangerous than cannabis, such as opioids, does not disqualify a patient’s firearm licensing, so neither should medical cannabis.

More enigmatic testimony came from Max Davidson, executive director of the Maryland Patient Rights Association, a medical-cannabis advocacy group. He seemed to be suggesting that, had he not been disqualified from gun ownership due to his cannabis card, he would’ve found a handgun useful for self defense in Baltimore City on two occasions.

“I’ve been a victim of violent crime in Baltimore City. Not a surprise, that happens a lot in Baltimore City,” Davidson explained to the committee. “But I can’t get a gun to defend myself.”

Here’s how Davidson described the first instance: “I was a victim of violent crime and the police tried to arrest me simply for the fact that I had a marijuana lapel pin. They were little kids that tried to rob me. Didn’t care that they assaulted me, let them go.” But, “due to the law, I can’t get a gun to defend myself.”

The second incident he described as follows: “I’ve also been almost a victim of violent crime at the dispensary I was working at. I had a person who had a hit list come in and start trouble and kept coming back and wanting to cause harm on me. Could not defend myself. If it wasn’t for the armed security at the dispensary, I might not be here to testify today.”

In either case, the scenarios raise the question of how brandishing or discharging a firearm in self defense would have brought them to safer conclusions. Perhaps Davidson is the exception that proves the rule on the guns-and-weed policy question.

CannaBuzz: Maryland Senate to air a big chunk of med-pot agenda today

By Van Smith

Baltimore, Feb. 26, 2019

The press has dubbed today “medical marijuana day” in Maryland, due to the high number of bills receiving hearings before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee starting at 1pm in Annapolis. The committee’s chair, Baltimore County Democrat Bobby Zirkin (11th District), has been instrumental in the creation of the state’s still-young medical cannabis industry, which is in the midst of a growth spurt that’s anticipated to reach $440 million by 2024. Not surprisingly, as FSC has reported, Zirkin’s political campaign committee trails only those of House Speaker Mike Bush (D), Gov. Larry Hogan (R), Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller (D) in the amount of money contributed by med-pot businesses.

FSC previously covered several of the bill’s that will be considered today:

Three Western Maryland Republicans  – state Sen. Andrew Serafini (District 2) and state Dels. William Wivell (District 2A) and Mike McKay (District 1C) – want to assure that possession of weed, medical or not, stays illegal in correctional settings, including for offenders still on probation.

Zirkin and Republican state Sen. Michael Hough (District 4, Frederick and Carroll counties) would like to see gun owners in the state’s medical-cannabis program be protected from being deprived of their firearms rights.

Harford County Republican state Sen. Robert Cassilly (District 34) joins four House Democrats – Prince George’s County state Dels. Geraldine Valentino-Smith (District 23A), Baltimore City state Del. Curt Anderson (District 43), Howard County state Del. Vanessa Atterbeary (District 13), and Calvert and Prince George’s counties state Del. Michael Jackson (District 27B) – in seeking to make punishment for being caught smoking cannabis in a vehicle on the highway the same as it is for an open container of alcohol.

Baltimore County Republican state Sen. Chris West (District 42) wants to allow investors to back as many as six medical-cannabis licenses – up from what was previously understood to be one, until pot investors’ lawyers muddied up the water on this point of law once the cat was already out of the bag.

An ethics bill that would put a full year between the date of leaving an agency post at the Maryland Medical Marijuana Commission (MCC) and new employment with an MCC-licensed grower, processor, or dispenary enjoys potent support.

A tax-and-regulate bill for fully legalized cannabis is being considered, sponsored entirely by Democrats, though the route to legalization – via straight-up legislative passage, or a bill that would put the matter to voters – has been tabled to a study group that will look at the question and report back in December.

The House version of Zirkin’s bill to allow med-pot dispensaries to serve THC- and CBD-laced food to certified patients and caregivers, sponsored by Baltimore City state Del. Cheryl Glenn (D-District 45), has had its committee hearing cancelled, so it looks like the Senate version is the one carrying the ball this session.

Zirkin’s bill seeking to give opioid sufferers access to legal weed, which Glenn has introduced in the House, is part of a larger effort to fit medical cannabis into society’s addiction-management rubric.

FSC has yet to delve into the remaining 11 bills being heard today, but, in time, they too will get the attention they deserve. With luck, FSC will be able to attend some of today’s hearings and report back later.

Cannabizness: Maryland Medical-Pot Businesses’ Political Donations, Amended

By Van Smith

Baltimore, Jan. 23, 2109

FSC’s first look at the Maryland cannabis industry’s donations to state political campaigns focused on licensed growers. Adding processors and dispensaries to the mix expands the picture, but only slightly. Since 2015, 19 cannabis businesses licensed by the Maryland Medical Marijuana Commission (MCC) have given a total of $124,850 to 48 Maryland political campaign committees.

The top recipients were House Speaker Mike Bush (D-District 30A, Anne Arundel County) with $13,000; Gov. Larry Hogan (R) with $12,000; Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller (D-27th District, Prince George’s, Charles and Calvert counties) with $10,000; state Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-11th District, Baltimore County) with $9,600; and recently retired state Del. Dan Morhaim (D-11th District, Baltimore County) with $7,975. The top-donating businesses were Holistic Industries ($48,500), ForwardGro ($26,375), Curio ($13,500), SunMed Growers ($12,500), and GTI Maryland ($11,250), the only dispensary licensee to jump so deeply into the political game.

GTI is a national cannabis company operating dispensaries under the RISE chain, and its Maryland entity operates as RISE Silver Spring. GTI Maryland’s biggest beneficiary, with $7,000, was Maryland Alliance for Progress PAC, described by the Washington Post as a “developer-funded super PAC” that, as noted by Seventh State blog, largely has undwritten efforts in support of Laurel mayor Craig Moe. Last year, Moe ran unsuccessfully for the First District seat on the Prince George’s County Council.

 

Cannabizness: Like other tightly regulated industries, Maryland’s medical-cannabis growers are playing the political money game

By Van Smith

Baltimore, Jan. 19, 2019

Since late 2015, nine of Maryland’s 14 licensed medical-cannabis growers have given a total of $106,700 to 40 Maryland political campaigns, according to online records maintained by the Maryland Board of Elections and analyzed by Free State Cannablawg. The industry was borne of legislation, and will live and thrive based on a politically malleable regulatory regime, so growers’ voices are now heard with the clink of antes dropped on lawmakers’ kitties.

The top recipients were House Speaker Mike Bush (D-District 30A, Anne Arundel County) with $13,000; Gov. Larry Hogan (R) with $12,000; recently retired state Del. Dan Morhaim (D-11th District, Baltimore County) with $7,725; and state Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-11th District, Baltimore County) with $7,600. The top-donating growers were Holistic Industries ($48,500), ForwardGro ($26,375), Curio ($13,500), and SunMed Growers ($12,500).

The political investments of Maryland’s cannabis growers appear to be assertively bipartisan, a nod perhaps to the state having a Republican governor and a Democratically controlled legislature. One grower, Kind Therapeutics, gave $2,500 to Change Maryland PAC, which is dedicated to boosting the GOP’s proportion of legislative seats to hamper Democrats’ control. Holistic Industries, meanwhile, tipped the Republican State Central Committee of Maryland’s hat to the tune of $4,000.

The donations FSC analyzed were only those made in the names of the growers’ corporate names of record, as entered in the Board of Elections database. Not included are the likely additional donations made by owners and employees of those businesses. Even this first, broad-brush analysis, though, shows the industry is actively adapting to the political reality of its existence.

Cannabizness: Bill to Aid Gun-Owning Medical Cannibis Users Gets Another Look in Maryland

By Van Smith

Baltimore, Jan. 15, 2019

Regulated firearms owners in Maryland who seek certification as medical-cannibis patients are in a pickle: a handgun license requires that holders are not presently habitual users of controlled dangerous substances such as cannibis. A bill attempting to rectify this, by establishing that a person may not be denied firearms rights solely due to being a certified medical-cannibis patient, was introduced in the Maryland Senate yesterday.

The bipartisan bill – Senate Bill 97 – is co-sponsored by state Sen. Michael Hough (R-4th District) of Frederick and Carroll counties and state Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-11th District) of Baltimore County. The two men tried it last year, too, with Senate Bill 602, but after being scheduled for a hearing nothing more came of it in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

The “Fiscal and Policy Note” for last year’s bill – the analysis of it, conducted by the Department of Legislative Services – concluded that “the bill’s changes are inconsistent with provisions of State law and may result in a violation of federal law.” Free State Cannablawg is reaching out to Hough and Zirkin, asking if they have reason to believe this year’s bill has the legs that last year’s lacked, and will update if they respond.