Maryland’s Marijuana Mess

Once again the Maryland General Assembly is going to be spending time this session correcting mistakes they have made with Maryland’s marijuana regime:

Maryland’s medical marijuana regulators said Tuesday that the General Assembly likely will have to clarify whether state rules governing the cannabis industry were meant to prevent big out-of-state companies from dominating the market by taking over homegrown firms.

The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission’s policy committee on Tuesday deferred voting on a proposal to amend existing regulations to make clear that companies cannot own more than one license in each of the industry’s three categories: growing cannabis, processing it into products and selling it at dispensaries. Commissioners said they expected the General Assembly to weigh in and decide the matter during the annual 90-day legislative session that begins Wednesday.

Several companies — mostly well-financed, experienced operators from outside of Maryland — have gained control of multiple licenses across categories by entering into “management agreements” with licensed firms for fees or revenue sharing in a state market that generated nearly $100 million in sales in 2018, the industry’s first full year.

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Currently regulators must approve any ownership changes that represent control of 5 percent or more of a licensed company. But the state’s regulations do not explicitly address management agreements. The cannabis commission has held that such deals are permissible under the state’s rules so long as ownership of a license does not change hands.

If you listened to the most recent episode of the Conservative Refuge, none of this will surprise you. Marijuana legalization in Maryland has been a boondoggle from the very start. Instead of creating a free market environment that allows marijuana growers and distributors to grow their businesses free of regulation, the Democrats have created a quasi-state controlled industry where state government gets to pick the winners and losers. And the winners tend to be politically connected Democrats, such as disgraced former delegate Dan Morhaim.

That brings us back to these proposed changes to the state’s existing medical marijuana regime. If the Democrats were truly serious about making medical marijuana available to patients as efficiently and inexpensively as possible, the Democrats would not be creating all of these barriers for “national” marijuana companies to come in to purchase licenses or operate marijuana dispensaries. How is the interest of the marijuana consumer harmed if an out-of-state company enters into a management agreement owned by a local licensee? I’d be willing to be that a company with such a management agreement has more experience, more resources, and the ability to deliver a higher quality product to its customers.

But of course those out-of-state companies don’t have the political connections to locally elected Democrats that in-state operators and licensees have, do they?

The irony of all of this is the fact that the same Democrats who want to ensure local control of the marijuana market are the same Democrats who want to harm local breweries, small locally-based businesses and for the sake of protector liquor distributorships that make it easier for out-of-state breweries to dominate the market. Again, to ensure that the politically connected distributors are protected.

And none of this takes into account whether or not we should be legalizing marijuana in the first place. On this week’s episode of The Air Raid I discussed the hypocrisy of Democratic attempts to make it harder for people to smoke cigarettes, but easier to smoke marijuana. The problems with marijuana legalization were again highlighted in a recent piece by Malcolm Gladwell for the New Yorker:

For example, smoking pot is widely supposed to diminish the nausea associated with chemotherapy. But, the panel pointed out, “there are no good-quality randomized trials investigating this option.” We have evidence for marijuana as a treatment for pain, but “very little is known about the efficacy, dose, routes of administration, or side effects of commonly used and commercially available cannabis products in the United States.” The caveats continue. Is it good for epilepsy? “Insufficient evidence.” Tourette’s syndrome? Limited evidence. A.L.S., Huntington’s, and Parkinson’s? Insufficient evidence. Irritable-bowel syndrome? Insufficient evidence. Dementia and glaucoma? Probably not. Anxiety? Maybe. Depression? Probably not.

Then come Chapters 5 through 13, the heart of the report, which concern marijuana’s potential risks. The haze of uncertainty continues. Does the use of cannabis increase the likelihood of fatal car accidents? Yes. By how much? Unclear. Does it affect motivation and cognition? Hard to say, but probably. Does it affect employment prospects? Probably. Will it impair academic achievement? Limited evidence. This goes on for pages.

Gladwell also talks about the important issue of crime following marijuana legalization in Washington:

Between 2013 and 2017, the state’s murder and aggravated-assault rates rose forty per cent—twice the national homicide increase and four times the national aggravated-assault increase. We don’t know that an increase in cannabis use was responsible for that surge in violence. Berenson, though, finds it strange that, at a time when Washington may have exposed its population to higher levels of what is widely assumed to be a calming substance, its citizens began turning on one another with increased aggression.

If you have an interest in marijuana policy at all, you should read all of Gladwell’s piece as well as take a look at some of his source material.

Alex Berenson, the author of the study Gladwell refers to, wrote a damning piece in the New York Times about marijuana and the harmful effects it has. You should also read Berenson’s piece before flying the flag of marijuana legalization, but Berenson points out that the research shows that increased use of marijuana may lead to schizophrenia and other mental disorders:

With large studies in peer-reviewed journals showing that marijuana increases the risk of psychosis and schizophrenia, the scientific literature around the drug is far more negative than it was 20 years ago. Comparing two major reports from the National Academy of Medicine, the nonprofit group that advises the federal government on health and medicine, makes the difference clear.

In a report in 1999, the academy (then called the Institute of Medicine) reported that “the association between marijuana and schizophrenia is not well understood.” It even suggested the drug might help some people with schizophrenia. But in its next major report on marijuana, released in 2017, the academy reached a very different conclusion: “Cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of schizophrenia and other psychoses; the higher the use, the greater the risk.

Berenson closes with this damning condemnation:

As Americans consider making marijuana a legal drug, it would be wise to remember the choices that fueled the devastating opioid epidemic. Decades ago, many of the same people pressing for marijuana legalization argued that the risks of opioid addiction could be easily managed.

A half-million deaths later, we have learned how wrong they were.

Readers of Red Maryland are not going to be surprised by any of this. Greg wrote a piece in the Baltimore Sun over five years ago that pointed out the folly of marijuana legalization, and we’ve also pointed out the disaster that marijuana legalization wrought on Colorado after its implementation.

Concerns about the effects of marijuana legalization on people or society have certainly not stopped Democrats, even today, from rushing to promote the full legalization of marijuana for both recreation and medical uses as soon as possible.

So what are we really doing here in Maryland when it comes to pot? We’re doing two things: we’re rapidly barreling down an unknown highway of legalizing a drug that at a time where advocates are trying to brush aside legitimate concerns about the health, societal, or environmental impacts of legalization while simultaneously creating a state-administered behemoth designed to limit consumer choice while enriching the politically-connected.

No matter what your position on marijuana legalization is, there’s no question that Maryland’s marijuana policy is a mess and that the General Assembly’s insistence on barreling toward full legalization is going to hurt our state economically and negatively impact the health and well-being of Marylanders for years to come.

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