Medical Cannabis Legislative Pioneer: Delegate Cheryl D. Glenn

Late this summer, I spoke with Maryland General Assembly Delegate Cheryl D. Glenn (D-45) who shared her thoughts on the evolving medical cannabis industry in the state and her legislative goals for 2020. Delegate Glenn has been a tireless advocate for Maryland’s medical cannabis program.

Jacquie Cohen Roth (JCR): As one of the people who really moved the needle on getting the medical cannabis industry up and running in Maryland, would you share your perspective on its evolution and growth?
Delegate Cheryl Glenn (CG): The evolution of the whole industry in Maryland is really unbelievable because when we started this whole initiative when the very first bill was filed in the state of Maryland by Republican Delegate Wade Koch who’s now on the Baltimore County Council back in the 90s and then others followed suit with their own individual legislation. It was never anything comprehensive. In 2007 when I filed my first legislation in my first term, I was told in no uncertain terms that this would never happen in the state of Maryland, especially the way in which I was approaching it. Other legislators tried to derail my efforts.

JCR: Why?
CG: People are very resistant to revolutionary kinds of concepts, and especially coming from a freshman legislator who’s not a lawyer, who’s not a doctor. I’m just a poor girl from East Baltimore. How dare I come up with this idea?  I didn’t do this by myself. Americans for Safe Access approached me and it was ironic because I had just lived through the horrible cancer death of my brother-in-law where the doctors said that it was a shame that he couldn’t get medical marijuana in the state of Maryland. But then when my mother got kidney cancer, which she eventually died from, it was horrible because she didn’t have any appetite to eat or drink anything. I started hearing more and more about medical marijuana and I began to investigate it once I was approached by Americans for Safe Access.

Once I filed the bill, other people, especially patients, came forth to assist. I will never forget some of those patients. It almost brings me to tears because I can remember one young guy, a student at University of Maryland. I could not believe that he forced himself to come to Annapolis and testify. He looked like if you blew on him, he would have fallen. He was dying and he was suffering, and he begged the legislature to legalize medical marijuana. Every year I had more and more people coming forth begging the legislature to support my bill. It was one of the most incredible things I’ve been involved in.

People were very resistant because the first thing you think about when you hear marijuana is getting people high, that this will be a gateway to hard core drugs. It took a lot of work to educate people. But I have been blessed with resources from people who wanted to see this happen. Montel Williams came to testify and I was so amazed. Working to legalize medical marijuana in Maryland has been a true learning experience. And I’m just blown away when I see the thousands of people who now support it: patients, caregivers, doctors. And then for the commission to be named after my mom, the Natalie M. LaPrade Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission. How cool is that?

JCR: You’re an African American woman proposing powerful legislation. If you had been a white man, how do you think the experience would have been different?
CG: I have the stripes on my back to prove how difficult it’s been. But I believe that God has just been guiding my path the whole way, helping me overcome all the obstacles set in our path to get to where we are today. I’ve just approached this with full humility but keeping my nose to the ground, wanting to make a difference for the patients, for the caregivers. Because I was a caregiver. I know how difficult it is, and that was another hurdle. My colleagues were very resistant to the concept that caregivers should be able to have access to medical marijuana. I really believe that we have one of the best, if not the best legislation, in the whole country because we cover so many conditions and have so many different providers who are eligible to treat patients.

JCR: When I was developing the content categories for CannabizMD and focused on our patient stories, I was only going to focus on registered, certified patients in Maryland. Then I started to hear these stories, and it became very clear that we had to reflect what’s really going on with patients and their experiences getting access to their medicine, both black and legal markets. I have a patient story from a fellow who was buying black market cannabis in Tennessee and it helped him get off of heroin. There’s a young woman on the CannabizMD Advisory Board, Kaitlyn Mallary, who was in a horrific car accident and cannabis has given her life back. She’s able to care for her little girl. There’s another young man who became a medical cannabis refugee and moved to Colorado so he could get access. Each story is powerful and needs to be heard.
CG: I’ve heard so many stories like that, people just uprooting themselves and moving.

JCR: How many cannabis focused bills did you sponsor in 2019?
CG: I didn’t count how many. My focus was twofold this past session—first to get edibles legalized. We got that done.

JCR: Why did you focus on edibles?
CG: Because they should be treated like medicine just like all other forms of medical marijuana are.

I really believe that we have one of the best, if not the best legislation, in the whole country because we cover so many conditions and have so many different providers who are eligible to treat patients.

JCR: Have you been involved in formulating regulations for edibles?
CG: We were very much a part of it.

JCR: My understanding is the regs are not yet determined.
CG: What happens is the MMCC will develop proposals for the regulations. And then the Black Caucus, Maryland’s attorney general, the leadership on the Health and Government Operations Committee, and the Speaker’s chief of staff will meet.

JCR: Why is the Black Caucus a key member of this group?
CG: Because we want to always make sure that everything has a lens of equity. We want to ensure diversity because we didn’t do that originally, and that’s why we had to pass a bill a couple of sessions ago to create these new licenses for minorities. We’re the only state that has legislated diversity. In order to do that, we had to have a disparity study done which showed the whole picture of the lack of diversity. I’m co-chair of the labor sub-committee for the National Black Caucus of State Legislators. At the national convention in December, we’re having a workshop so that we can show other states how todo what we did, because it should be replicated around the country. When you consider the fact that less than one percent of all the licenses nationally are held by black folks, that is absolutely unacceptable.  And the only way that you’re going to force that to change is through legislation.

JCR: What was your other focus this session?
CG: The other was to put the cap on the rights for the dispensaries.

JCR: Why did you want that cap?
CG: We realized that there had been a loophole in the original legislation with management agreements that we didn’t anticipate. The cap has to do with how many programs each person can be involved in. When we originally created the legislation, you could only have one license for one grower facility, one processor and one dispensary, but we didn’t understand the loophole with management agreements. We put the cap on it so we wouldn’t have out of town companies coming in and buying up licenses, creating monopolies.

JCR: What’s your stance on legalization for adult use?
CG: I’m not supportive at this time because we don’t have our medical marijuana program. We have to make sure that’s up and running, growing, processing, dispensing, diversity, the whole nine yards. And having lived through this, having born this baby so to speak, I know the pitfalls. If we move to legalization right away, what about all those people who are still in jail or who have records right now from marijuana offenses? You can’t go back once the bill is done. You’ve got to make sure everything is tight from the beginning. And if you try to do everything at one time, you’re not going to do it well. We need to just wait and get the medical marijuana program where it needs to be. Then we can do our due diligence, look at legalization and see if it’s profitable.

JCR: What are your goals for Maryland’s 2020 session specific to the medical cannabis industry?
CG: We’re holding our breath to make sure that we get the diversity that we’re expecting with these new licenses. If that doesn’t go according to plan, then of course, that’ll throw us into a whole new fight for what we feel is needed. Two things on the horizon would be the opioid issue (medical cannabis as an alternative to opioids) and protections for workers who have a recommendation from a physician for medical marijuana. You shouldn’t be restricted from accessing medical marijuana based on where you work. People who work in law enforcement, for example, have a severe restriction on medical cannabis. I want to tackle that.

Jacquie Cohen Roth is Founder/CEO of CannabizMD and social enterprise Tea Pad, LLC.