Quick Hit: MMCC Debates Maryland Cannabis Legalization Bill

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A fascinating debate about the future of cannabis in Maryland popped-up in the middle of last week’s Maryland Medicinal Cannabis Commission (MMCC) meeting. Director of the Office of Policy and Government Affairs Taylor Kasky highlighted a number of particularly notable cannabis bills introduced this legislative session (Kasky noted that in total there are about 35 bills), including House Bill 32, which is effectively a cannabis legalization bill. Kasky focused on the bill’s potential effects on the MMCC.

“The bill places regulation of the new adult-use industry with the newly created Alcohol and Tobacco Commission. So this bill would actually have adult-use cannabis and medical cannabis regulated separately, as MMCC would continue to regulate the medical portion,” Kasky said. “ That’s notable because every other state that regulates adult use and medical cannabis has the same entities, the same agency regulating both of those programs. So I just wanted to point that out. Make sure that everyone was aware that that is a pretty significant structural component.”

Kasky also stressed that the MMCC has generally not taken a position on bills in Annapolis. This led MMCC commissioner Philip Cogan to ask why the MMCC does not take a position and then encourage the commission to oppose HB 32. Cogan’s reasoning was mostly due to the potential health risks he claimed are associated with cannabis use.

“I can talk at length about the dangers of pregnant women and breastfeeding women using cannabis,” Cogan said, referring to a paper he wrote on the topic, which he asked the rest of the commission if they’d read.

Dr. C. Obi Onyewu responded by saying that the concern about the MMCC taking a position is about “how to frame the boundaries for this commission.” Then he challenged Cogan’s argument.

“I mean, some of the counter arguments would be that there are pregnant women who drink alcohol—bad for babies, you know? There are pregnant women who use, you know, opioids—bad for babies. And so there are a lot of things and there are a lot of other legal, FDA-approved medications that have drug interactions in a similar way, I’m just playing devil’s advocate here with regards to this situation,” Onyewu said. “Even when we talk about, you know, medical cannabis, there are likely patients or clients who have medical cannabis cards and access to it and continue to use it during pregnancy.”

Another concern was that generally, the introduction of regulated, commercial cannabis has greatly reduced the number of medicinal dispensaries. This could be a problem for some medicinal patients but it would be an existential threat to the MMCC itself.

Cogan motioned to oppose HB 32 but did not get any other to join the motion and the meeting continued along. Still, the debate was interesting: It revealed the stakes the MMCC’s commissioners such as Cogan and the commission itself have in more sweeping cannabis reform.

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