Medical cannabis business boosts Cambridge economy

CAMBRIDGE — In 2014, the State of Maryland passed legislation to legalize medical cannabis and create the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC). MMCC is responsible for licensing new companies that wish to grow, process, and/or dispense medical cannabis.

Medical cannabis has helped many people suffering from cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, insomnia, and anxiety, and most commonly in controlling chronic pain associated with numerous conditions, without the risk of addiction or overdose associated with opioids.

Mackie Barch, formerly CEO of a small pharmaceutical firm, is one of the entrepreneurs who jumped at this opportunity, and he chose to bring his business to Cambridge. He is the President of Culta, which he describes as “a vertically-integrated cannabis cultivation and processing business.” When considering where to locate his business, he first met with Senator Addie Eckardt. Although she still has concerns about the legislation that passed, she recognizes the potential economic benefits.

Mr. Barch followed the Senator’s advice to build relationships with the community prior to setting up shop. He met with and sought support from the Chamber of Commerce, the City of Cambridge, Economic Development, Health and Social Services, and other stakeholders. When asked why Culta settled on Cambridge, after visiting other Eastern Shore towns, he explained that “Cambridge was by far the most welcoming.”

Culta built the plant using local companies and workers whenever possible. Culta also met early on with the Cambridge police, to work out security plans, and even ended up hiring retired police officers as security staff. The company has spent over $1 million on security. That includes a RFID bar code on every plant, meaning it can be tracked, reducing the risk of illicit use.

The company started production in spring of 2018. Culta has hired over 60 local workers and will need more going forward. The Culta plant in Cambridge grows and then processes cannabis into a variety of forms for medical use, including oral sprays, pills, and edibles. Culta does not sell products in Cambridge. Instead, Culta’s products are sold to legally licensed dispensaries both within and outside Maryland. The MMCC website lists over 100 dispensaries across the state.
Individual patients seeking medical cannabis must register with the MMCC and then obtain the approval of a health care provider, also licensed by the MMCC, before visiting a dispensary. Registration processes for both patients and providers are listed on the MMCC website, http://mmcc.maryland.gov/

Cannabis is still classified as illegal by the Federal Government. Mr. Barch points out that the Trump administration’s current policy to defer to “states’ rights,” for those states that have passed relevant legislation. Because of the Federal classification, research into cannabis effects, both positive and negative, has been limited, although increasing.

States where medical cannabis is legal have seen a significant drop in opioid use (and misuse), with implications for the current epidemic. Other studies warn of cannabis side effects, including impacts on attention, judgment, and balance, similar to those of alcohol.

The MMCC forbids home growing, which reduces the risk of illegal markets. The overall cannabis market growth is projected to be over $60 billion by 2024. Many people will be watching with interest.

References:
Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission http://mmcc.maryland.gov/Pages/industry.aspx
“Medical Marijuana: Benefits, Risks, & State Laws.” Kim Ann Zimmermann, Live Science, June 6, 2017. https://www.livescience.com/24554-medical-marijuana.html
“How Medical Marijuana Could Help Curb the Opioid Epidemic.” By Bahar Gholipour, Live Science, April 2, 2018. https://www.livescience.com/62193-legalizing-marijuana-surprising-benefit.html
“Maryland’s Cannabis Industry.” Erin Cox, Baltimore Sun 9-17-17. http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/investigations/bs-md-marijuana-growers-20170901-story.html
“Opioid Use Lower In States That Eased Marijuana Laws.” Richard Harris, NPR All Things Considered, April 2, 2018. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/04/02/598787768/opioid-use-lower-in-states-that-eased-marijuana-laws
Cannabis Market Growth Projected to Exceed $60 Billion by 2024
https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/cannabis-market-growth-projected-to-exceed-60-billion-by-2024-674698743.html Feb 21, 2018, PRNewswire
A study by Georgia State University last year found alcohol sales had tumbled 15 per cent in US states where medical marijuana had been legalized.
Bags of Cash and Stealthy Deliveries: How Pot Start-Ups Pay Taxes
NYT, By Julie Weed May 18, 2018

Maryland Medical Cannabis Laws & Regulations https://www.safeaccessnow.org/maryland_medical_cannabis_laws

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