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Maryland panel approves medical marijuana regulations

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ANNAPOLIS, Maryland — A Maryland commission approved regulations on Thursday to implement a medical marijuana program after a drawn-out process in a state that has struggled to make marijuana available to sick patients.

While the regulations still need approval from a legislative panel and the state's health secretary, advocates say the vote marked a significant step forward. While some advocates have criticized delays when the panel missed a September deadline, others say the holdups were due to a deliberate process to create the best possible regulations from scratch.

"We're hopeful that this will speed up the process of getting this program implemented so that patients can get served," said Darrell Carrington, a lobbyist for the Maryland Cannabis Industry Association.

The program is not expected to be operational until early to mid-2016.

The commission had delayed voting on the regulations last month to take a second look at fees for growers and dispensers, costs some critics have said are too high. In the end, the panel decided the program needed to have ample funding to be self-sufficient.

"We had a lot of discussion with a lot of people, and we felt as an independent commission after looking at all the various factors we absolutely need to maintain enough finance to ensure a very good operational program," Dr. Paul Davies, the commission chairman, said after the vote.

Fees for up to 15 marijuana growers have been set at $250,000 every two years. The fee for dispensaries is $80,000 every two years.

The regulations run to about 100 pages. Robin Hurni, who plans to apply for a license to grow marijuana under the program on the Eastern Shore, described them as a positive start.

"I think they're a nice framework, a nice set of bones, if you will, to give us what we need," Hurni, of Denton, said.

Brian Smith, a 34-year-old Baltimore man with liver cancer who began following the commission's progress in September, said he was appalled by the panel's lack of progress at first.

"The process that's coming, I don't know how long it's going to take. They left a lot up in the air where you're still guessing and things like that, but the regulations themselves, I feel confident with them," said Smith. He added that marijuana helps ease nausea he experiences and alleviates orthopedic pain he suffers.

Next week, Davies said the commission will come up with an operational plan for its next stage: finding the right staff, putting together a budget and incorporating technology.

"We're trying to be as modern as we can with this. We're trying to reduce paperwork, save trees and having everything done online," Davies said.

Davies said he hopes to establish an application process for growers and dispensers sometime in the middle of 2015.

The regulations were changed recently to include marijuana extracts for people who don't want to smoke marijuana. However, the commission did not include marijuana edibles, because that would have required additional work with various food sections in the health department, and Davies said they didn't have time to work out those details. He said plans call for adding edibles later.

Maryland enacted a medical marijuana law last year. It required academic medical centers to run the programs, and none stepped forward. The law was changed this year to allow certified doctors to recommend marijuana for patients with debilitating, chronic and severe illnesses.

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