After years of delays, Maryland residents in pain lined up Friday to buy medical marijuana in a state that has some of the nation's most liberal policies on who can qualify for medical cannabis.
Dozens of people stood outside Potomac Holistics, where owners awaited their first shipment later that afternoon to begin selling it. William Askinazi, one of the dispensary's owners, said people who work at the store are euphoric that the day has finally come.
"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."
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 expects to see between 600 and 1,000 patients over the next three days.
Patrick Allison, of Annapolis, was one of 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."
Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia local news, events and information
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.
Not everyone is relieved about the new dispensiary.
"I think it sends a bad message to children," John Savukinas, a local denist, said. "We don't need increased people selling the marijuana they get legally to somebody in the parking lot."
He's met with the dispensiary twice to address concerns.
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 come to Maryland.
Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized a comprehensive medical marijuana program, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.