Photo via Wikimedia Commons

It’s taken more than three years, but as of today, thousands of Maryland residents are signed up to receive medical-grade cannabis to treat a range of conditions.

According to figures provided by the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, 4,233 patients and 148 caregivers have successfully registered with the state. The data is current through noon today.

Marylanders have been able to apply to become registered patients and caregivers for nearly six weeks. The process began for residents with last names stating with letters A through L on April 10 and opened up to everyone on April 24.

Officials have approved 4,381 total applications out of the 6,780 that were submitted, or about 65 percent, in the last six weeks.

“We’re doing really, really well compared to other states’ rollouts,” said Mary-jo Mather, director of administration for the cannabis commission. (D.C.’s four-year-old medical cannabis program has nearly 5,000 registered patients through May 1, as a point of comparison.)

Most of the decisions not to approve applications were due to clerical or processing issues – “just really simple things,” Mather said. Examples include incomplete paperwork, unsuitable photos and addresses on applications not matching up with IDs. Many applicants have also neglected to simply confirm their email addresses with the commission, she said.

Applicants must provide their name and address and a clear photo taken within the last six months, as well as a copy of a government-issued form of ID. The same goes for caregivers obtaining cannabis on behalf of a sick patient.

Doctors can recommend cannabis if patients’ conditions are severe, have been ineffectively treated by other medications and “if the symptoms reasonably can be expected to be relieved by the use of medical cannabis,” per state regulations.

Eligible reasons include diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder and glaucoma, as well as other diseases or medical conditions that can cause anorexia, cachexia, severe pain, seizures, “severe or persistent” muscle spasms and wasting syndrome.

Doctors can also treat patients who don’t meet those criteria, but only if “the certifying physician has determined that the potential benefits of the medical use of cannabis likely outweigh the health risks for the patient,” state policy says.

They also have to see the patient in person at least once per year, Mather noted.

Patients have now waited more than three years to obtain medical weed. The rollout has been fraught with administrative delays and lawsuits, including a couple filed after the commission issued its first preliminary, or “Stage One,” licenses to growers and processors last summer.

The state has pre-authorized 102 dispensaries to operate around the state, nearly a dozen of them in Baltimore City, along with 15 growers and 15 processors.

Black legislators have led a push to overhaul the process entirely before businesses can begin actually serving patients, citing a lack of minority representation among owners of growing and processing businesses. Maryland’s medical cannabis law requires the commission to account for the state’s diversity when issuing licenses for the industry.

The state, meanwhile, has pushed back against that argument, publishing data from a survey of pre-approved businesses indicating 35 percent of cannabis firm owners are racial or ethnic minorities. The same is true for nearly three-fifths of all industry employees, according to the survey.

After legislators’ effort proved unsuccessful this past legislative term, they asked Gov. Larry Hogan to call a special session to reconsider bills that would require more licenses reserved for minority-owned growing businesses, among other changes.

Hogan hasn’t responded to those requests, but has ordered his Office of Minority Affairs to study the issue.

One black-owned firm that was denied approval to grow cannabis in Maryland sued this week to try to stop the commission from issuing full licenses to growers and processors. A judge in Baltimore City Circuit Court hasn’t granted the requested injunction.

Two days ago, the commission issued its first-ever grower’s license to Stevensville-based ForwardGro.

The commission’s website says medical cannabis will become available to thousands of registered patients “by the end of summer 2017 depending on industry progress.”

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...