Solomons home to new medical cannabis dispensary
Since the first medical cannabis store opened in Mechanicsville last December, three more dispensaries opened in Southern Maryland, including one in Solomons and two in White Plains.
Leasing a unit at the Solomons Professional Center near the Gov. Thomas Johnson Bridge, Calvert’s first and only dispensary opened in March. G&J Pharmaceuticals, which owns the store, called Greenwave, was one of 102 companies pre-approved by the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission to sell medical cannabis. As of last week, Maryland has 65 dispensaries open.
John Simpson, the license holder and co-owner of the Solomons dispensary, said Monday the company didn’t make any big announcement when it first opened because the owners wanted to “keep it low-key.”
Simpson, who owns several businesses in Calvert, said the idea for the company came from a visit to his stepson in California, who got into the medical marijuana delivery business and found it profitable and self-fulfilling.
“This is medicine for thousands of years. … It’s more natural than opioids,” he said.
Since opening in March, Lauren Simpson, John Simpson’s daughter who runs the dispensary, said business has been good. On average, she said the store receives between 70 and 80 patients a day and her clients want to play by the rules.
“People should understand that every patient who signed up wants to comply,” she said. “They don’t want to give the program a bad name.”
Jay Cannedy of Lusby is one of Simpson’s clients. The 64-year-old said Wednesday he uses cannabis to manage pain from his arthritis as well as back and shoulder surgeries.
A retired carpenter and welder, Cannedy said he took prescribed opioids, including Oxycontin, for years prior to having access to cannabis. The opioids later became less effective as his body built up endurance to the drugs and gave him side effects like constipation. Constantly in pain, he said he had trouble sleeping.
Now, “I can go through hours of time not being in pain at all,” he said.
Medical use of cannabis was legalized in 2013, and proponents have long cited its effectiveness in treating pain and alleviating symptoms of some chronic conditions. Not everyone is convinced of its benefits, though.
Critics like DeForest Rathbone of Leonardtown, a longtime, strong opponent to marijuana’s legalization, called it a “gateway drug” and said it could lead to more youth experimenting with it, “feeling like it’s not going to hurt me, leading to harder drugs.”
In 2016, Calvert County commissioners asked legislators to ban marijuana businesses or to tax the businesses if the ban request failed. That request never even received a bill number.
“I am very familiar with marijuana, its properties and what it can do to an individual. There are over 300 chemical compounds in marijuana, none of which are good for you,” Commissioners’ Vice President Tom Hejl (R), Calvert’s former assistant sheriff, said after the board’s request failed to move forward in the spring of 2016.
In late 2017, the commissioners were briefed by county staff about zoning policies and they pondered the legal ramifications given the federal prohibitions of marijuana.
Commissioners’ President Evan Slaughenhoupt (R) said by phone Wednesday that he’s happy for those who can get some pain relief from the substance. But the merit of the substance, he said, is a separate matter from his belief that the state law, which contradicts federal law on the legality of marijuana, puts every local official in jeopardy of violating their oaths to the Constitution.
Supporters, on the other hand, argue medical cannabis can be part of the solution to the ongoing opioid crisis that’s killing five Marylanders every day.
“You can’t overdose on it,” said Cannedy, the retiree who switched from opioids to cannabis to manage pain.
Studies have shown “states that have adopted the medical cannabis programs have on average two million less opioid pills prescribed per year,” said William Tilburg, director of policy and government relations for the state’s cannabis commission, in a keynote speech Sept. 14 at the Healthy St. Mary’s Partnership meeting in California.
Tilburg went on to explain the difference between the two terms — cannabis and marijuana — as more than semantics. Although they come from the same plant, Tilburg said cannabis refers to the legal product for medical use, whereas marijuana refers to the illicit drug in Maryland.
In Maryland, about 40,000 patients have registered with the commission, though a breakdown of Calvert’s patients was not available by press time. The total number of registered patients in the state corresponds to about 0.3 percent of the state’s entire population.
While county commissioners can pass zoning restrictions on medical cannabis businesses, as some counties have done so, Calvert did not pursue it.
“Our collective decision was to do nothing different than what we are currently doing,” Slaughenhoupt said.
Under current zoning policy, a medical cannabis business falls under the retail commercial category.
Each senatorial district is allowed up to two dispensaries. In District 29, which covers all of St. Mary’s and southern Calvert, there are two dispensaries.