This is an exciting time for the Maryland medical cannabis industry. Almost a year since dispensaries opened, the number of cultivators, dispensaries, and ancillary businesses are growing, and more importantly, more and more patients are gaining access to legal relief. And through it all, the industry is working collaboratively with regulators to support the objectives of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC) program—to provide safe cannabis products and ensure controlled access to Maryland patients in need.   

While the future is bright, the stark reality remains, all cannabis-related businesses are operating in a new, highly regulated industry (with limited enforcement history), under a complex web of Federal, State and locality-specific laws that demand their full compliance. If those laws aren’t followed, businesses could face fines, penalties, or even closure.  (Where is that “Easy” button from Staples when you need it?)

The best way to stay in compliance with the law and enhance operations is by implementing a corporate compliance program (CCP) designed to protect your investment and ensure your compliance sustainability—keep dispensary doors open, crop operations growing, and meeting your businesses financial, social and operational goals.

What is a corporate compliance policy?

At its core, the CCP sets the tone and culture of the business and its staff. It’s a set of internal policies, procedures, and activities designed to protect a company internally (from itself), identify and reduce internal or external risks, ensure compliance with the laws, and protect the business’ reputation. CCP activities center on:

  • Preventing problems (policy, training)
  • Detecting issues (audits, monitoring, interviews)
  • Responding to reports (investigations, incident reports, communications, hotlines, remediation)  

The components of a CCP have been well documented over the past 15+ years by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which created a series of Compliance Program Guidance documents for hospitals, physicians, and other types of providers that detail the seven components and risk areas for each. Your CCP should have all of these elements to be effective:

  1. Written policies, procedures, standards of conduct
  2. A designated compliance officer
  3. Effective training and education
  4. The development of effective lines of communication
  5. Enforcement of standards through disciplinary guidelines
  6. Internal monitoring and auditing of risk areas
  7. Prompt response to detected offenses and corrective action

Why a CCP matters

The benefits of a carefully designed CCP have been well documented in other high-risk industries, and they include:

  • Demonstrating your commitment to responsible conduct
  • Reducing the likelihood of violations
  • Providing a mechanism for identifying violations sooner / reacting quickly and efficiently
  • Reducing the likelihood of heavy penalties if violations occur
  • Making your organization more efficient
  • Protecting and upholding your organization’s reputation
  • Compliance sustainability and the ability to continue doing business

Bottom Line: Compliance does not just happen—accidents do. Businesses benefit from implementing compliance programs early in their operations to plan, document, and substantiate their efforts to comply with the law, while helping to avoid criminal sanctions, license revocation, and mitigate less serious offenses. To ensure access for patients, compliance sustainability must the achieved every day.

Tim Gunther and Curt Udell are cannabis compliance professionals with I Love Compliance.