Maryland began the sale of medical marijuana to residents in pain on Friday, ending years of delays by embarking on a program that features some of the most liberal policies in the nation on who can qualify for the prescribed cannabis.
Dozens of people stood outside a licensed dispensary, Potomac Holistics, where owners began making sales soon after receiving their first shipment Friday afternoon.
William Askinazi, one of the owners, said people who work at the store were euphoric that the day had finally arrived. More than half of all U.S. states, plus the District of Columbia, have legalized a comprehensive medical marijuana program, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures
"You can tell there's a buzz, and we're excited for so many reasons," Askinazi said. "We're giving care to people who need it."
A long line of people cheered late Friday as sales began.
Denise Broyhill was among the first in the door to buy marijuana tablets. She said she was upbeat and relieved after years of delays by authorities in making medical marijuana available in the state. A resident of the state capital city of Annapolis, Broyhill also said she hoped for good results managing the pain from a neurological condition.
"I'm very excited to try it and relieved to get through the whole process after waiting so long," Broyhill said. "It's been a longtime, but I'm looking to have some good pain management."
Maryland approved its first medical marijuana law in 2013. But the effort stalled because it required academic medical centers to run the programs, and none stepped forward. The law was changed in 2014 to allow doctors certified by a state medical cannabis commission to recommend marijuana for patients with debilitating, chronic and severe illnesses.
While the initial rollout was initially expected to be limited due to available supply, Askinazi said he expected to see between 600 and 1,000 patients over the next three days.
Patrick Allison, of Annapolis, was also among the first in line. He said he suffers from ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis that causes inflammation of the spinal joints that can lead to severe, chronic pain and discomfort.
"It's about time," Allison said. "I live in chronic pain. You wouldn't know it to look at me, but I'm about an eight right now on a scale of one to 10, head to toe. The only thing that works for me is marijuana."
David Johnson, of Frederick, said he was relieved that he could now have access to medical marijuana to ease pain from nerve damage. He said he's tired of driving in pain to pharmacies in search of opioids.
"It's been a nightmare," he said. "This is a godsend."
Medical marijuana will be available for any condition that is severe in which other medical treatments have been ineffective, and if the symptoms "reasonably can be expected to be relieved" by marijuana. Patients with a chronic or debilitating medical condition that causes severe appetite loss, severe or chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures or severe muscle spasms also can have access, as well as people with glaucoma or post-traumatic stress disorder.
"In Maryland, there are very liberal qualifying conditions," Askinazi said.
Even further, Maryland will allow not only physicians but nurse practitioners, dentists, podiatrists and nurse midwives to certify patients as eligible to receive marijuana. People authorized to recommend the use of medical marijuana will be able to do so for patients from other states who travel to Maryland.