As medical marijuana products come to Maryland, so do regulations

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New medical marijuana products will soon be available in Maryland. Cannabis edibles, like cookies, brownies and various forms of candy, will be made and sold at authorized dispensaries.

Patients say it's a welcome option, but the state is scrambling to come up with rules and regulations to keep people, especially children, safe.

Ariana Foote is a medical cannabis patient. She puts it in a variety of foods, like pasta, butter, brownies and olive oil. She uses it to treat symptoms of depression and anxiety and to help her sleep.

"Food is every day. It's part of your life. To incorporate (cannabis) into your life and showing it that way definitely helps change the idea of weed and the stigma behind it," Foote said. "Edibles are important because it really gives people more access to more options."

For various reasons, some people, like Foote, make their own edibles.

By law, Maryland dispensaries, like Chesacanna Dispensary in Lutherville, are limited in the edibles they can sell. Chesacanna offers various flavors of chews and beverages, but the law is changing and soon Maryland dispensaries will be allowed to manufacture and sell a broader range of commercial edible products.

"It will be a game changer because patients will have access to new meds that will be highly effective and diverse, and again through consumption, it's going to help change the stigma, because a lot of people associate smoking and vaping with cannabis," said Marc Spataro, owner Chesacanna Dispensary.

But there are concerns.

"The concern is really about the young children getting into the product. They can get very sick from it," said James Leonard, a pharmacist at the Maryland Poison Center.

It's a problem the Maryland Poison Center is already seeing. From January to September, it logged 50 incidents of kids accidentally being exposed to or ingesting marijuana edibles.

It doesn't just affect children.

"(One adult was) treated for a stroke then had to be admitted overnight, and turns out when they had resolved the case, they said, 'I ate a bunch of my daughter's pot brownies,'" Leonard said.

Ryan Vandrey is an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Psychiatry and Behavior Sciences. He said dosing of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis that gives people the feeling of being high, is critically important.

"At higher doses, we see people get nauseous and vomit. We've had people get very anxious and paranoid. We've had people hallucinate at higher doses," Vandrey said. "How we allow the branding and the marketing and the labeling of products becomes important."

The Maryland Cannabis Commission is tackling issues like that right now. Before cannabis edibles are manufactured and sold, it must develop rules and regulations.

"The priority for the commission is the safety of patients and preventing access to these products for minors and over consumption," said Will Tillburg, acting director of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission.

The proposed regulations include putting a universal marijuana symbol on each package, disclosing the THC content and putting a cap on the amount allowed in each serving. There will be warning labels. Packaging must be child resistant and there are to be no animal, cartoon or human shaped candies. There will be restrictions on flavors and types of food.

"My staff had looked to every state that has a medical cannabis edible product program and so (they) literally reviewed all the laws and then secondarily followed up with colleagues in all those states to see what worked and what didn't," Tillburg said.

Foote said cannabis edibles are making a positive impact on her life.

"I love everything about it. The feeling is wellness all over," Foote said.

Foote is looking forward to having more edible options available, while the state makes sure those options are safe.

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