Leading the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission into the Future
Joy Strand joined the Natalie M. LaPrade Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC) as Executive Director the same day the medical cannabis product became available in the state. While new to the medical cannabis industry, Strand is no novice when it comes to healthcare or meeting the needs of patients. With a background that spans four decades in the healthcare industry, she’s been on both the provider and administration side and says all of her professional experiences have been building blocks to her role with the commission.
“I’ve always been one to either fix things or build things, so this young and growing industry intrigued me,” says Strand. “That it was medical cannabis, an alternative for traditional medicine, also interested me as a laboratorian. As I researched the medicinal side of cannabis, I learned how people truly benefited from its medicinal effects.”
As the MMCC’s leader, Strand is keenly focused on growing the medical cannabis industry in Maryland the right way with product quality and the establishment of high standards as a top priority.
“I understand the need for regulation, know how to make the regulations clear, enforce them, and hold people accountable. There are reasons for regulations and reasons for testing. It’s about making sure that the medical cannabis product we have in Maryland is safe and of the highest quality,” says Strand. “All of our growers, processors, and dispensaries consistently go through rigorous processes to ensure that patients are receiving the highest quality product every time.”
To ensure that those goals are accomplished, Strand is responsible for the coordination of MMCC operations, developing and implementing strategic goals, working with commissioners and committees, and guiding the commission’s growing staff of professionals.
The Path to the MMCC
Strand’s nature is to help others and she has nurtured this ability over the course of her 40-year career in healthcare. She began her career as a nurse’s aide in a nursing home at the age of 17 and later worked in a variety of caregiver capacities in several hospitals. Strand also served in numerous leadership roles including quality and risk management and, more recently, as the CEO of Schoolcraft Memorial Hospital and McCready Health in Crisfield, Maryland.
When the role of MMCC Executive Director became available in 2017, Strand knew that her decades of experience in healthcare, quality, and leadership would serve the commission and the state’s nascent medical cannabis industry well.
Focusing on the Present, Looking Toward the Future
In any new and evolving industry, things tend to move quickly. Strand points to the 2018 Maryland Legislative Session and House Bill 2 (HB2), which emphasizes diversifying the medical cannabis industry in Maryland as one of its many requirements and a priority for the MMCC. The HB2 bill addresses the lack of minority and women-led businesses by adding seven new grower licenses, 12 new processor licenses, and directs the MMCC to actively seek racial, gender, ethnic and geographic diversity in their award.
“The MMCC has been working diligently to implement diversity in the industry,” says Strand. As such, we are developing an application process that encourages more minorities and women to enter the medical cannabis industry. We continue to ensure that we have a thorough, fair, and well-balanced program that is constitutionally sound from a diversity standpoint.”
Additional points of focus for the MMCC through 2018 include:
- Opening up the application process around the start of 2019 for new licenses
- Continuing to build the MMCC’s team, specifically in the enforcement and compliance area
- Exploring the launch of new educational programs for dispensary agents, providers, and patients.
Also recently announced, the MMCC will be releasing grant money to provide training and assistance to small, minority, and women business owners and entrepreneurs seeking to become licensed medical cannabis growers, processors, or dispensaries in the state (Grant ID: MMCC 19-111).
Something New Every Day
With between 200 to 300 new patient applications coming through every day, Strand points to the tremendous growth the MMCC has undergone since she took the helm. In just over six months, Strand’s team of professionals has grown from 19 to more than 40, with more staff being added as the industry matures.
“There’s something new every day. We get hundreds of calls and applications from patients on a daily basis. I’m very pleased with the ability of the commission to keep pace,” she says. To keep up with the growing demand for access to medical cannabis and information, the commission has created a more robust website to provide individuals with all of the information needed as quickly as possible.
Understanding the Complexity of the Commission
“It’s always hard to understand the inner workings of an agency when you’re outside looking in,” says Strand. “Before I got here, I had no idea the complexity of the MMCC. I could not be prouder to work with a team of professionals who are dedicated to establishing a quality medical cannabis program for patients across the state.”
“The MMCC gets a great deal of public scrutiny,” adds Strand. “I hope people understand that there are very dedicated individuals working very hard to make this a high-quality program for the people of Maryland.”