One Eastern Shore mother and pharmacist received the gift of a lifetime this holiday season – the opportunity to dispense medical marijuana in Maryland once the program comes together in the next year or so.
Meet Mary Pat Hoffman, the Clinical Director of Peninsula Alternative Health.
“It was crazy the way they rolled this out, it was like watching paint dry,” she said.
Finally, at 4 o’clock in the evening on a Friday, the announcement came. Hoffman and her company received one of the 102 preliminary dispensary licenses for the state of Maryland. They were awarded their license for District 37, which is western Salisbury, near Salisbury University.
The application was very specific and tedious, she explained.
She researched, and answered much of the medical side of the application. “I must applaud the Maryland commission on that,” she continued, “there were lots of different aspects they covered in the application process, it was very thorough.”
From execution of security, finances, and business plans – to her expertise on the medical side, you had to know what you were doing to complete the application.
“You needed a group not just one person, and it was all encompassing,” she added. There were four partners in her team, with different specialties, working on different sections at any given time.
Teamwork in uncharted territory
Peninsula Alternative Health is enjoying their victory for now, but a ton of work remains. There are still many unknowns, like which cultivators they will get their medical marijuana from, and when the medicine will be ready for Maryland patients.
Hoffman is hoping to gather medical marijuana providers on the Eastern Shore for an informal meeting; a meet and greet of companies that will be working side-by-side in uncharted territory.
Doctors don’t have a clue
Practicing doctors in Maryland aren’t catching on to this wealth of information in the cannabinoid field, warns Hoffman.
“When you have these amazing grassroots efforts,” she added, “I don’t know how people can look at cannabis and say it shouldn’t be available to people who need it.”
Hoffman has two decades of experience as a pharmacist in Maryland. She says she gets all the industry newsletters, and speaks to doctors and insurance companies on a daily basis.
“It’s frightening, there is no conversation on legal cannabis going on here,” she explained.
It was ten years ago that one woman opened her eyes to the potential of the plant.
She started considering the herb as medicine when she heard it was helping some veterans with PTSD, and children with epilepsy. But it was that one woman from Bethany, who was stricken with cancer, that got her attention.
Hoffman remembers that a woman she had been dispensing drugs to at the local pharmacy suddenly stopped coming in regularly. Turns out, the woman was so sick with cancer and chemotherapy, that her son eventually had to come in her stead. They were running out of hope, and time, explained the son.
He asked Hoffman is cannabis would hurt his mother.
‘Can I give my mother cannabis?’ he asked the pharmacist.
Hoffman did her due diligence with what little literature and case studies were out there. She couldn’t find anything saying the drug interactions would hurt his dying, emaciated mother. So she said to try it.
It was her first informal case study.
“She died soon after, but her pills were cut down significantly, and she was out and about and dealing with it all so much better,” Hoffman recalls.
In addition to her dispensary, Hoffman is on track to begin teaching an elective on cannabis medicine at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore’s (UMES) School of Pharmacy.
She has the support of the school behind her company and her efforts. So much so that her dispensary will one day be a preceptor school for future UMES pharmacy students.
Hoffman has already lined up an impressive list of guest speakers, including: The District Attorney for Somerset County, a private attorney, and Steep Hill laboratories.
“Students will be exposed to cannabis as a medicine for the first time,” said Hoffman.
She spent two years perfecting the syllabus. She said it’s basic enough for a decent understanding of the plant – the legal and ethical sides, and the moral issues. Her goal is to have students graduating without associating cannabis with any stigma; instead, associating it with medicine right out of the gate.
The Maryland medical cannabis commission
Maryland’s medical marijuana program was approved in 2014 and has been noted as one of the slowest medical marijuana programs to launch.
The 15 companies that received preliminary cultivation licenses to grow cannabis were also eligible to apply for dispensary licenses. All ten companies who sought a preliminary dispensary license received one.
Hoffman and the other companies still face additional review by the state, and must pass inspections before opening. They’ll also have to wait for Maryland’s growers and processors to produce medical cannabis products as well.
Maryland has decided marijuana patients are eligible for up to four ounces of cannabis or cannabis concentrates every 30 days. However, edible items such as infused cookies or granolas are off limits.
Maryland has also agreed to reciprocity with Washington D.C.’s medical marijuana program, which is already up and running. That would allow patients from both areas to use a DC or a Maryland dispensary, and have their medicine continuously tracked to remain within the four-ounce rule.