Legal marijuana grown in Dorchester County?

MD-medical marijuana 3x-091415

A local corporation headquartered in Federalsburg hopes to open a medical marijuana manufacturing, processing, and distribution business in Hurlock.

HURLOCK — The few Hurlock residents who attended a meagerly advertised town meeting on Sept. 9 to voice opinions about traffic problems and a four-way stop at the intersection of Routes 392 and 331 encountered an unexpected and unannounced topic during the second portion of the gathering – a prospect for the town’s Industrial Park. Cannamedus, a local corporation headquartered in Federalsburg, hopes to open a medical marijuana manufacturing, processing, and distribution business in Hurlock.

Perhaps remembering Easton’s hullabaloo about a similar project in the old Black & Decker plant, town officials chose to keep the Cannamedus presentation low-key.  Only a dozen or so residents heard about a project that promises to bring economic development to town.

Mayor Joyce Spratt invited audience members to hear how the company plans to utilize the former Marvesta Shrimp Farm buildings to grow and market alternative holistic remedies, primarily cannabis, for those with severe chronic pain, cancer, PTSD, seizures, and other maladies.

Ken Abner, president of the Federalsburg Town Council and a principal in the newly incorporated Cannamedus, said, “I’m here because I lost my father to cancer 15 years ago and at that time I started researching alternative, holistic medicines other than chemo treatments. One was cannabis. We now know that it is truly a medicine that addresses not only cancer but a number of other ailments.” He said, from a medicinal standpoint the company is no different than major drug manufacturers except “our medicines are from a plant based product.”

When Maryland passed a medical marijuana law in 2003, Mr. Abner investigated the “opportunity to join the medical community in producing medicine from plant based materials versus chemicals.” The legislature is updating the law and has designed 160 pages of regulation governing the product. “What we’d really like to do out here is build a health center that not only would grow cannabis on site but to also build a 30,000 sq. ft structure on the property to handle the curing, processing and packaging of materials. Part of that would be a dispensary system and a wellness center that would provide alternative products like essential oils. We’re looking at a true, fully, holistic approach.”

In addition, Mr. Abner intends to start a fund in his father’s name: The Carl Robert Abner Foundation for student scholarships in the medical field.

Acknowledging public concerns, Mr. Abner says security is vital. Cannamedus security expert Shawn Sizer is a former White House Marine who helped design and manage security for 64 federal buildings and their perimeters including IRS, Justice Department, Commerce Department, and BWI/Thurgood Marshall Airport.
“We know that we have a social responsibility,” said Mr. Abner. “We don’t want our product getting out on the street. The worst thing would be if Maryland at some point legalizes recreational marijuana and that’s not what we’re here to talk about nor am I in favor of it.”
The facility will have an 8’, double barred perimeter security fence, inside and outside CCTV, canines inside the perimeter, motion sensors, lighting, and a security officer 24/7. Products are bar coded from seed to package. They are available by prescription only and restricted to 4 oz. monthly.

The slope of the property helps with security. Deep ditches are ¾ of the way around the facility and the company will complete the circle. “So,” said Mr. Sizer, “attempts to breach the fence would put a car nose into a ditch. Sheriff Phillips has agreed to try and “poke holes in our security,” said Mr. Sizer, “we don’t want problems walking in or walking out.”

Twenty-four counties will vie for 15 licenses in Maryland. The state will approve the final regulations shortly and announce the opening day of applications. Mr. Abner anticipates they will open in mid- to late September and the process will be open for 30-45 days. Applications will go to a third party group of physicians, security professionals, etc. that addresses each part of the application. It then returns to the state commission. Mr. Abner feels the state has “done a good job at ensuring that we will avoid a situation where favoritism might be shown through lobbying efforts.”

“The money stays here,” said Mr. Abner. “There will be a lot of competition coming in from other states. They may give a token equity position to a Maryland resident to strengthen their application but the money they make will go back out of town.”

The group intends to close on the facility in the middle of October although they will not know if they have the cannabis license until late December or early January. But they will have a strategic advantage over competitors with an existing, ready-to-go facility; and, they will have proven community support. If they do not receive a license for cannabis which has a high profit margin Mr. Abner says they will use the property for producing other plant-based medicines. “We will buy the property, make use of it, and bring jobs to town.”

Economic development in north Dorchester is a key factor in community support. Mr. Abner predicted a $5 million investment with a first year estimate of 22 jobs that would grow to 50. All applicants are FBI checked and drug tested monthly with a “one strike and you’re out” policy. The median income will be $45-50,000 a year with the lowest pay at $15/hour. He said, “A lot of the positions will be well above $50,000 but that’s the median.” He anticipates that the first year net “should be $5 million. After 5 years the projection should be around $35 million in revenues.”

Mr. Abner emphasized, “We want to support local businesses as much as we can.” He mentioned mushroom growers, worm casting companies, security advisers, and a local bank. Unlike some competitors, they accept credit cards and do not have to “deal with moving large amounts of cash.

Messrs. Abner, Sizer and Attorney Michael Rothman recognize the importance of telling the Cannamedus story to the community. They need community support. At a meeting with Dorchester County Sheriff James Phillips, the Dorchester Health Department, and drug prevention programs they first met resistance. All were against the project at first, as was Mayor Spratt. But all agreed after hearing the details that the company would be a welcome addition to the community.

Mr. Abner explained, “There’s a stigma revolving around the word ‘pot.’ We don’t use that word. It’s cannabis and it’s a phenomenal resource.” The company processes the cannabis down to an extract, a tincture, a salve, or a lotion with very low THC content unlike psychoactive “pot.” A meltaway tab would benefit cancer patients who often cannot swallow pills.

In a consensus response, the council approved giving the company a letter of support. The Federalsburg Town Council recently offered a similar letter to another fledgling medical marijuana company.

Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.

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