By Laura Spitalniak
For The Diamondback
When Marguerite Santos graduated from this university in 2012, it never would have crossed her mind then that she would be trying to sell marijuana professionally.
"If you asked me three years ago, absolutely not," said Santos, who graduated with an English language arts education degree. "I wasn't educated enough to know it was something worth doing."
Santos is now one of the founding partners of AltPharm, a medical marijuana grower, processor and dispensary run by university alumni. It's also one of the first in the state to have applied for licensing from the Natalie M. LaPrade Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission.
James Riordon, another founding partner and a 2014 alumnus of this university, said he is excited to begin working and hopes the application will be approved this summer. Marijuana can act as an alternative to harsh pharmaceuticals, and he hopes to build its reputation, he said.
"I have had family members going through illnesses that could have been helped by medical cannabis," Riordon said.
When the commission announced early last year it would be accepting third-party applications for medical marijuana businesses, Riordon and Santos approached the topic as party banter.
"We talked and joked about it over dinner," Riordon said. "Then, we stopped laughing and thought this would be the perfect opportunity to jump in a new industry on the ground level."
The application process closed in November 2015 and the commission received 811 dispenser license applications, 146 grower license applications and 124 processor license applications, according to the commission website.
Prospective businesses had about six weeks to submit the necessary information, including proof that they had enough money to run a dispensary, and proof of residency in this state. Moreover, staff had to submit to background checks, the website stated.
Per state law, there can be no more than two dispensaries in each of the state's 47 districts and no more than 15 growing facilities statewide. AltPharm is looking to open its cultivation facility and dispensary in Prince George's County, specifically the Bowie area, where the community needs it most, Riordon said.
If AltPharm's license is not approved, Riordon and Santos said, they have no intention of abandoning the business.
"I plan to stay in the medical cannabis industry," Riordon said, "be it in the state of Maryland, a state with an established medical cannabis industry or otherwise."
Moving forward, Santos and Riordon mostly hope to educate the public about medical cannabis.
"Marijuana has a stigma, especially with the federal law against it," Santos said, and the business aims to end that. Even she had hesitations about it originally, she added.
Part of fighting the stigma comes in the form of creating a program for children age 12 and under who qualify to use medical cannabis but cannot afford it. A July 2015 news release from AltPharm stated that insurance companies generally do not cover the cost of marijuana as medical treatment, even as it becomes more common in doctor's offices and in the medical community.
Riordon said this could be a way to give back.
"Medical cannabis is much lower in THC than recreational varieties," Riordon said in the release. "For kids, we will be producing strains with near zero percentages of THC but high levels of therapeutic compounds."
AltPharm is also looking into alternative forms of ingestion, so younger patients do not need to smoke.
Santos described medical cannabis as a movement, and said it's important to tell people who are still unsure about it to educate themselves.
"Immerse yourself into this culture," she said. "This is actual medicine and it does great things."