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On a recent Thursday morning customers lined up outside The Dispensary in Westminster waiting for the cannabis store to open its doors. It’s a scene that has played out regularly since July 1, when recreational cannabis became legal in Maryland for adults 21 and older.
“We had a line down the road that day with people waiting their entire lives for this,” said Rick Glass, community liaison at The Dispensary, located in the Fairgrounds Village Shopping Center. “So many of them were so excited. It was very crazy.”
According to the Maryland Cannabis Administration, The Dispensary is one of two cannabis dispensaries in Carroll County, both located in Westminster, and both under the city’s jurisdiction. The other is Verilife Dispensary on Corporate Center Court, which did not respond to a request for an interview.
Business at The Dispensary has exploded since July.
“Considering we’re one of two dispensaries, we have seen very, very high volume,” Glass said. “Most interesting is the age range of people that are using cannabis. It’s all over the map.”
Glass said a lot of older people are using the products.
“I’ve seen a lot more elderly people wanting to reduce pain, and get off prescription medicines,” he said. “We have a lot of repeat customers, and with our computer system we can track what they use. We can adjust the cannabis. We can track that in our system.”
Glass admits that dealing with the high volume of patients, as he refers to them, has not been easy.
“We’re dealing with growing pains,” he said. “We hired additional staff, added registers, streamlined the online ordering process. We’re also dealing with our medical cannabis patients. They’re having to wait a little longer. Our priority is always our medical marijuana patients.”
A staff of 48 works the front of The Dispensary, where marijuana pipes, cannabis-themed T-shirts, socks and other paraphernalia is sold. Shelves are neatly stacked with merchandise, and an array of colorful water pipes are displayed in glass cases.
It’s there that customers are directed by written signs into two separate lines — one for recreational cannabis, and the other for medical.
Customers must then use a special security pass to enter a closed-door room to purchase cannabis-containing items such as marijuana flowers, edibles, topicals, gummies and cookies.
The Dispensary had been open as a medical marijuana business for three years before expanding to recreational sales in July. Education on what cannabis products can do, and how much to consume, is a big part of the job.
“We always try to educate here,” Glass said. “Everybody that comes in has specific needs, and we try to educate them on what they need.”
Glass has been in the cannabis industry for five years. A military veteran who served two tours in Iraq, he was discharged in 2005 and found himself turning to alcohol to deal with the pain of combat.
“I was arrested in Westminster on a DUI, and after my third rehab stop, I knew I had to stop drinking,” he said. “I’m a recovering alcoholic. It’s been over six years without a drop of alcohol.”
Glass credits daily cannabis use for saving his life.
“I started doing research,” he said. “Now, I do not take a single prescription medication. I got rid of six medications. I smoke cannabis all day, as needed.”
Glass is well aware of the concerns raised by opponents of recreational marijuana use but says that the state is very strict in its oversight of the business.
The Maryland Cannabis Administration formerly the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, was established this year to oversee the licensing, registration, inspection and testing measures pertaining to the adult-use cannabis industry. It also provides information to patients, adult consumers, providers, growers, processors, dispensaries, independent testing laboratories, and ancillary businesses.
Glass said the concerns about edible cannabis products or food products, such as candy infused with marijuana, getting into the hands of children is unwarranted. Glass said they are careful with the packaging of their edibles and make an effort not to sell products enticing to children.
Westminster’s mayor and Common Council last month passed legislation renaming the city’s Medical Cannabis Overlay District the Cannabis Overlay District. The district was adopted by the mayor and council on Oct. 26, 2015 and allows for the location of facilities for growing, processing and dispensing medical cannabis within city limits.
“The City of Westminster already had zoning in place for medical cannabis, so it was straightforward to reevaluate the zoning overlay and apply a zone for sales of recreational cannabis on top of the medical zone,” Mayor Mona Becker said in June, adding that there are “no concerns” in amending the zoning ordinance for recreational cannabis.
City officials’ support for cannabis sales is in stark contrast to the county commissioners’ stance. Commissioners have expressed concerns about regulating the sale of recreational cannabis in the county.
In April commissioners voted to refer decisions about when, where and how cannabis-related businesses can operate to the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission.
However, commissioners said in April that the vote was made “under protest,” because they did not support the legalization of marijuana.
The planning commission has decided to set aside the cannabis discussion until they receive more clarification from the state and the Maryland Association of Counties — a nonprofit, nonpartisan statewide organization that advocates for county-level needs in the state legislature — on how recreational cannabis should be regulated.
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“This is not a pressing issue as the county itself does not currently have any medical cannabis dispensaries,” the planning commission stated in an email. “New licenses from the state will not be available until next spring, so this issue can wait until the county has all the necessary information to make an informed decision on legislative changes for the county.”
Legalization of medical marijuana was passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 2014 and former Gov. Martin O’Malley signed the bill into law on April 14, 2014.
Maryland residents overwhelmingly approved a ballot referendum question stating a desire to legalize the recreational use of cannabis during the 2022 general election, and state lawmakers established rules for recreational use this year.
Recreational cannabis was one of the top pieces of legislation approved during the General Assembly session that ended April 10.
As of July 1, individuals 21 and older can legally use, possess and consume up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis flower, 12 grams of concentrated cannabis, or a total amount of cannabis products that does not exceed 750 mg of THC in Maryland. This amount is known as the “personal use amount.”
Medical marijuana businesses could begin converting their licenses to new medical and recreational cannabis licenses before July 1. That was followed by a first round of new licenses for “social equity applicants” — those who have lived in or attended school in an area “disproportionally impacted” by cannabis criminalization — by Jan. 1.
A second round of licenses will be granted after May 1, 2024, for any other applicants. Large portions of the revenue from a 9% sales tax on recreational cannabis will go to communities disproportionally affected by the war on drugs.