According to a state audit released last week, the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission has racked up a $2.6 million tab, while scurrying to review a growing pile of applications to process, dispense and grow the drug.
The audit also discovered that the commission avoided the standard procurement safeguards, which is designed to ensure it didn’t pay in excess for reviewing license applications.
With triple the number of applications than expected, the commission agreed to increase the pay for each application reviewed by 60 percent. Towson University’s Regional Economic Studies Institute (RESI) reviewed a total of 512 applications and expected to be paid an estimated $1,335 for each, but payment has not been received, according to the auditors.
Patrick Jameson, the commission’s executive director, responded by email, saying RESI presented invoices that did not have line-item specificity.
The commission has yet to pay the bill due to the lack of detail. In 2016, Jameson expressed contempt for the process that was set up prior to his tenure. He said it was “too expensive” and “too cumbersome.”
The chief economist at RESI, Daraisu Irani, said the previous payment of $150,000 received from the commission was for an unrelated initiative. When it comes to the applications, RESI has not been compensated for their effort.
RESI hired roughly 24 subject experts to review the applications, which have already been paid. However, Irani declined to go into further detail about how the institute was impacted by the outstanding bill and covered the expense.
The budget for the commission does not come from tax dollars like other state agencies, but instead comes from the license fees that are paid by companies authorized to work in the medical cannabis industry.
The commission is already facing to two lawsuits contesting the legality of the process utilized by the commission to select winning companies.
Maryland’s medical marijuana program is struggling to get off the ground due to legal and political delays. The commission is hoping the issues will be cleared away and the drug will be available to patients by this fall.