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University of Maryland's School of Pharmacy creates program on medical marijuana

University of Maryland's School of Pharmacy creates program on medical marijuana. (ABC7)

Medical marijuana training is now part of the curriculum at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

The School of Pharmacy in Baltimore has already signed up 24 people for online courses and hopes to signs thousands more.

"Let's educate these individuals to do it properly, says pharmacy Professor Magaly Rodriguez de Bittner. "The training is specifically geared toward the staff, that by the Maryland law, are going to be dispensing or cultivating the medical marijuana."

The school is partnering with the group Americans for Safe Access, a D.C.-based medical cannabis advocacy organization.

The Washington Post says ASA is providing instructors and the curriculum, which the school "vetted and adjusted," according to the paper.

"We here in Maryland, and a lot of other states now, are getting on board with really having a medical model," says Krissy Bernazani, the clinical director of 'Freestate Wellness', which hopes to open a medical cannabis cultivation and dispensary facility in Jessup by this fall.

The training comes as Maryland's medical marijuana industry is just beginning to take root.

Just last week, the state's first licensed dispensary, operated by the Wellness Institute of Maryland, opened in Frederick.

The company is already accepting patient referrals, although cannabis won't be available until September, perhaps later.

"I think that's perfectly acceptable," says Neil Perry, a Jessup resident. "Just like any other medicine that comes from plants... it should be used, and should be allowed."

Rodriguez de Bittner emphasizes the training is not geared toward medical providers, but for staffers working at medical marijuana facilities.

Thirty-hour certification courses will cost between $450 and $750.

Among the subjects: patient safety, cultivation, dispensing, and policies and procedures.

Some offerings sound like business school classes.

"It would be quality assurance, record keeping, what records you keep when you dispense, what process you use when you dispense," Rodriguez, also the executive director of the school's Center for Innovative Pharmacy Solutions, says.

Bernazani says Freestate Wellness wants to hire around 40 to 50 people by the end of 2018.

They will be taking the UMD course for help in understanding the law and the product.

"Most folks think about cannabis as pot, marijuana, something you're smoking in your dorm room," she says. "It's not that anymore."

A year ago, state officials issued 15 preliminary growing licenses and 15 preliminary processing licenses.

About 102 companies across Maryland are hoping to open dispensaries.

Published reports say as many as 9,000 people have signed up to register to take part in the medical marijuana program.

"It may relieve pain, it may relieve nausea, people who go through anxiety," says Barbara Guy, of Jessup. "There's so many conditions out there."

But don't look for a medical marijuana drive-thru.

There are no patient walk-ins.

First off, a doctor who is registered with the program must approve a patient's record for medical marijuana use.

If that's approved, a patient must show a "cannibis registration card" or have an ID that shows he or she is on the Maryland medical marijuana program.

Bernazani says her facility will have 'traditional flower products' but she says there are safer alternatives.

"They can use a vape pen, oral products, whether it's a capsule you can swallow or a tablet you can chew or dissolve," she says. "Topicals have proven to be extremely effective for painful conditions, arthritic conditions. Our dispensary will carry all those products."

Rodriguez de Bittner is hoping that thousands, including prospective workers from outside the Baltimore-Washington area will sign up for the courses.

"It would be like quality assurance," she says. "Safety is our number one priority."

Bernazani says her company has invested a lot of money to prepare the Jessup facility.

She believes the medical cannabis industry is turning a corner.

"When someone has a loved one who has cancer, or they have a child with intractable seizures... that's when it hits home and that stigma goes away pretty quick."

This story has been updated, Wednesday, July 12, 2017

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