A New Leaf
Medical marijuana dispensaries are sprouting up all over the Bethesda area. Who’s using them—and will full legalization be next?
For Brown, 36, who grew up in Bethesda, medical cannabis is a family affair. She and her younger sister, Laura Brown, are co-market presidents in Maryland for Green Thumb Industries (GTI), a large Chicago-based national cannabis cultivator, processor and dispensary operator. Brown and her sister help run three medical cannabis dispensaries in Maryland, two of which are in Montgomery County: RISE Bethesda and RISE Silver Spring. The sisters, with help from their parents and GTI, also opened a state-approved processing plant in Centreville, in Queen Anne’s County. At the 6,000-square-foot facility, employees—including a chemist with a Ph.D.—turn marijuana plants into a variety of cannabis products, such as tinctures, patches and oil-filled vape pens.
Brown was working as a tax attorney in Washington, D.C., in 2015 when it occurred to her that the legal skills she honed while helping clients understand all kinds of governmental rules, regulations and laws could help her navigate Maryland’s nascent medical cannabis industry. She and a friend formed a company named Chesapeake Alternatives and applied to participate in the state program. Brown didn’t hear back from the state for a year, she recalls, but when she finally got the go-ahead she enlisted relatives to join the venture.
Initially, Brown felt awkward telling acquaintances about her entrepreneurial foray into medical cannabis. “I did struggle with it at first, especially when we received our preapproval” from the state, Brown recalls. “I had a newborn at the time. I was meeting a lot of people. I was sleep deprived. I was very nervous. I had no idea how they’d react.” On the other hand, she worried that “if I wasn’t upfront, I’d be contributing to the stigma.” Ultimately, she opted to be open and spread the word about the benefits and legality of medical marijuana. “The reactions have been nothing but positive,” she says.
Seeking expertise and investors, Brown’s company partnered with nationally expanding GTI. The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, however, issued a bulletin in June that could affect how Brown’s business and others are structured. The commission bulletin said that no individual or entity can have an ownership interest in more than one dispensary, one processing plant and one growing operation. All licensees are required to identify the name of each owner or investor, the commission says. GTI pushed back, arguing in a letter from a lawyer that “there is no basis in existing Maryland statutes or regulations for these purported requirements.”
The cozy redbrick house on New Hampshire Avenue in Ashton is for sale. Daniel Goldberg’s parents, now 66, need a one-story home. For now, Goldberg sleeps in what used to be the family sunroom. There’s a port-a-potty by his bed. He can make it upstairs to the family bathroom most days. At night, the stairs are daunting. He has drop foot on his right side, which means he can’t lift the front of that foot to walk safely, much less mount stairs, without putting on a brace.
Goldberg came home in a wheelchair after the crash. Now he walks around the house grabbing onto furniture for support. He typically uses two canes when he leaves home.
Walking or standing for a long time is tiring. Goldberg’s spine has flattened and can’t support his slender frame. He bends forward slightly at the waist, and that’s likely to worsen over time, he says. He might end his days bent so far forward that he’s forever looking at the ground. “Or I might end up a hunchback,” he says. It sounds grim. Still, he’s upbeat.
Goldberg feels grateful. He’s grateful to the doctors and nurses who saved his life. He’s grateful that his loving parents turned their lives upside down to be there for him. He’s grateful that he is not paralyzed. He’s grateful that if his damaged left arm had to be locked at the elbow that it’s at a 90-degree angle. “That’s the perfect angle for playing guitar,” he says cheerfully. “Seriously, if my arm was bent just 2 inches more or less, I couldn’t play guitar. Cooking and playing guitar are my favorite things to do.”
Goldberg excitedly shows off his guitar collection, which stands in one corner of his makeshift bedroom. There was a time when he was listless and couldn’t force himself to play guitar. The prescription opioids he took to keep the screaming pain at bay sapped him. “The pain meds numb you,” he says. “You don’t feel the bad so much. You don’t feel the good, either. When I watched movies that were seriously funny, I couldn’t even laugh. I couldn’t play my guitars because the feeling of creativity was just not there. You can’t feel joy. You’re not genuinely interested in anything. You want to be, but you can’t be because you are numb.”
That’s changed. Through Maryland’s medical cannabis program, Goldberg buys capsules made with 25 milligrams of THC. He takes one daily, which gives him extended pain relief and more: a sense of peace. For breakthrough pain he smokes medical cannabis flower. Occasionally, he also drinks an elixir made with THC and CBD.
Sometimes he announces to his parents something none of them ever thought they’d hear him say: “Right now, at this moment, I’m not feeling any pain.” Medical marijuana works so well for Goldberg, he says, that he decided in September to ask his pain doctor to help taper him off all opioids.
“I have these genuine feelings of happiness again,” Goldberg says. “Those are normal feelings for people who are not on pain medication—just normal, everyday feelings. But for me, having them back is just a godsend. Laughing, really laughing from the gut, that is a godsend.”
The road ahead is still something of a dark unknown, but Goldberg feels lucky to be alive and finding his way. He lifts a guitar to play. He is playing the blues, but not feeling blue. As he strums the guitar, he smiles. His smile widens. It just feels so good to be able to smile.
April Witt (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a former Washington Post writer.
Is Full Legalization Coming in Maryland?
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