Medical marijuana industry sprouts in Maryland
BALTIMORE (WBFF) - Since last year, dispensaries in Maryland have been selling medical marijuana.
As that number continues to grow, the industry is expected to generate millions of dollars in revenue for the state.
It's believed marijuana can help mitigate side effects of a number of illnesses.
While research suggests there's truth to that belief, the drug is still not approved by the FDA.
Residents like Mike Malloy, an Army veteran, have said medical marijuana help them the most.
Malloy came home from his tours of duty with no physical injuries. Emotionally, he knew something wasn't right.
"I served with 3rd ID mechanized. Did two combat tours, one in Afghanistan, one in Iraq," he said.
Malloy said he has night terrors that are "not consistent" and "can happen from any time."
He was "on a battery of medications, from Seroquel, Ambien, Adderall."
But he said medical marijuana has helped the most.
"Yes, definitely it's working. I've actually cut back. I actually still take some medications. Because, cannabis is not a cure-all," he said.
Malloy and thousands of Marylanders are now using marijuana for medical purposes. The state legalized medical cannabis in 2014.
Marijuana is being grown at facilities across the state, including one FOX45 visited in north Baltimore.
Tom Haffly, of Temescal Wellness, walked through rows of cannabis, as far as the eye can see.
The start-up company has operations in Maryland, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
"What we know anecdotally is cannabis has been shown to be able to provide relief for over 138 different medical conditions," said Kevin Powell, director of retail for Temescal. "Those are anecdotal stories because we don't have as much in-depth research as we would like to have."
The idea that cannabis sellers don't have in-depth research is an understatement to substance abuse expert Mike Gimbel.
He says there's a difference when a drug is approved by the FDA.
"I want the public to know that marijuana has not - watch my lips - marijuana has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for medicinal purposes," said Gimbel.
In this state, the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission is the agency that oversees the drug.
Companies that grow, package or dispense cannabis must be registered with the commission.
Doctors who want to recommend cannabis and patients who want to use it have to register with the commission.
Patients take that recommendation to a dispensary, which tries to match the right product and dosage to the patient.
These days, medical cannabis doesn't have to be smoked. It can be taken in pill or even liquid form.
"We always recommend it's the lowest dose that gives you the most effect, with the least amount of side effects that is the best. We always say 'low and slow,'" said dispensary manager Steven Austin.
Mike Gimbel is skeptical.
"We don't know long-term damage from marijuana, and neither does any politician in Annapolis," he said.
Thirty states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. Eight of those states and D.C. have also legalized recreational marijuana.
Maryland isn't one of those states.
It's believed cannabis has a number of health benefits, from alleviating nausea in cancer patients to relieving anxiety, even helping those suffering from multiple sclerosis.
Temescal Wellness is the first medical cannabis operation in the state to operate from seed to sale. That means they grow the product, package it, then dispense it.
At the grow facility, each plant is nurtured with baby-like care.
Growing plants for human consumption indoors with no sunlight or outdoor air tests the limits of science.
"We have to be very mindful of our environmental parameters inside the grow spaces at all times, including light, temperature, humidity and all of our irrigation practices," said Tom Haffly, director of production.
Once the plants are ready for harvest, they're clipped and sent to the packaging area.
Steven Austin is the dispensary manager at Temescal Wellness. The dispensary is in Pikesville. This trained pharmacist left that profession after 25 years, out of frustration. The opioid epidemic is a big reason why he left.
"I saw what opioid abuse and dispensing was doing to patients... I was on the front lines; I saw how doctors were writing prescriptions for opioids," he said.
But Gimbel said: "If the FDA approves marijuana and finds it has medicinal purposes - which it might and that's terrific - then they should approve it, license it, certify it, make it available to every pharmacy so that everyone can use it."
Right now, 30 licenses for medical cannabis dispensaries have been issued in Maryland. There are more than 25,000 registered patients and 722 registered providers.
Can the FDA study marijuana and approve federally for human use?
Not as long as the DEA classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, like cocaine and crystal meth. Congress would have to get involved.
(Disclaimer: Gimbel has a show called "Straight Talk" on this station, but he is a recognized substance-abuse expert.)