Some See ‘Green Rush’ In Maryland’s Medical Marijuana Industry

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The medical marijuana business is up and running in Maryland after the Medical Cannabis Commission approved 102 dispensaries, many of which are open and ready for customers.

For some Marylanders, it means they can legally use marijuana to treat a medical condition. For others, it means what some call a “green rush” of business opportunities and jobs.

The Culta cannabis cultivation facility is located in a warehouse yard in Cambridge on the site of the original Bumble Bee tuna factory, surrounded by barbed wire fence and guarded by a security system.

Four years ago, owner Mackie Barch decided to give up his pharmaceutical company and take the plunge into the medical marijuana business.

“It’s an awesome opportunity for a lot of entrepreneurs to get a foothold in the industry,” Barch said.

It’s an industry that, like pharmaceuticals, is highly scientific and highly regulated.

It’s a state-of-the-art facility, and because pesticides are not allowed to be used in Maryland, cleanliness is extremely important to keep the plants healthy. So everything from the walls down to the floors are designed to be completely washed down. People are required to put on protective suits just to get near the plants.

Every cannabis plant is meticulously cared and accounted for at every stage of the grow process, from cloning, to flowering, to drying and trimming, and that creates many jobs.

“It requires lots of different skill sets. It’s really interesting. We pull people from all walks of life,” Barch said.

Culta’s people includes Jamie Longworth, a cancer survivor turned cannabis cultivator.

“So much pride and joy comes with it. It’s a fantastic feeling to come to work and be doing such big things. It changes so many lives,” Longworth said.

“We’ve hired about 42 people already in the city of Cambridge. We pay 30 percent over the average wage, and we’re rolling out health care this summer, so it has been a real boon to the area,” Barch said.

Now the business of cannabis has reached the classroom.

Anne Arundel Community College Professor Shad Ewart teaches a groundbreaking course, Entrepreneurial Opportunities in Emerging Markets: Cannabis Legalization BPA 227, and he’s pushing for a complete certificate program.

“There is no certificate program for entry-level workers in the cannabis industry right now, and I also think that it provides some legitimacy for the industry,” Ewart said.

Thirty students from all different age groups and backgrounds are looking to build a business plan and capitalize on all facets of medical marijuana.

“A lot of the promise is in the oils and the extracts that are being derived from the actual flower itself,” said Patrick Marnell, a student.

Ewart emphasized there’s money to be made beyond the marijuana plants.

“I compare it to the gold rush. I call it the ‘green rush.’ In the gold rush, the people that made the money were not the people that found the gold nuggets, but the ones that sold the picks and the shovels. In my class, we look at those ancillary, or supporting business, around the growers, processors and dispensaries,” Ewart said.

The overall economic impact for Maryland remains to be seen, but according to recent studies, the cannabis industry nationwide will create hundreds of thousands of jobs over the next several years, and that has entrepreneurs like Barch seeing green.