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Gold Leaf cannabis dispensary opens on West Street in Annapolis

Gold Leaf dispensary on West Street looks more like the lobby of a swanky hotel than a medical cannabis dispensary.

A bodyguard with an earpiece and dark suit swings open the glass door to usher in customers. Natural light coming through the glass and gold facade glints off shelved displays of glass water pipes. Faux vines and succulents rise up the back wall; on the other side, very real cannabis buds sit in glass canisters, backlit with individual LED lights.

Co-owner Larry Adler designed the new dispensary with an upscale aesthetic on purpose. He wants to do away with the negative connotations surrounding cannabis use and the stereotype of a dingy, shopping center dispensary where users go to get their medicine.

“We want people to be able to come in here and be happy to be here,” Adler said.

Adler and co-owner David Podrog opened Gold Leaf April 11, and have already seen a healthy flow of customers, most of whom are patients seeking relief from a spectrum of pain.

Patients of all ages filtered in and out of the dispensary on a gray Friday. Patients hand over government-issued IDs and show their medical marijuana card. Customers have to be of age, 21 or older, to enter unless they have a card.

There’s not one kind of person who comes to the dispensary, said general manager Michael Tese. The oldest patient Gold Leaf staff served was a 98-year-old woman with knee pain. Nor is there one kind of product.

Gold Leaf offers two dozen strains of marijuana — Birthday Cake has been the most popular thus far. But the dispensary also offers tinctures, elixirs, hash oil products, pre-rolled blunts, even cannabis infused olive oil. In a room separated from the lobby, “budtenders” help patients navigate the overwhelming variety. Gold Leaf also provides patients with journals where they can track their experience with each product — what it was, when they took it, how intense the high felt, whether they liked it or not.

The Maryland General Assembly legalized medical cannabis in 2013, but the infrastructure to make it available to patients wasn’t in place until more recently. Dispensaries, producers and growers faced a lengthy application process, beginning in 2015. In Anne Arundel County, some of these businesses faced steeper challenges because of zoning regulations put in place by former County Executive Steve Schuh. These have since been rolled back under the new County Council and County Executive Steuart Pittman.

One grower and three distributors, including Gold Leaf, operate in Anne Arundel County. Another seven county growers and distributors have pre-approval for a license from the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission. Businesses with pre-approval have until Aug. 30 to find a location, get inspections and become fully operational by Sept. 30, said cannabis commission spokeswoman Jennifer White. If the business can’t get up and running by then, the owners can apply for an extension through December, but only if there are circumstances out of their control.

“There are also issues where maybe two owners aren’t seeing eye to eye,” White said. “They have to either get it together, get operational or get out. It has to be a legitimate ‘We couldn’t help it’ reason.”

The dispensary has been controversial in the past.

Co-owner Larry Adler designed the city’s new dispensary with an upscale aesthetic on purpose. He wants to do away with the negative connotations surrounding cannabis use and the stereotype of a dingy, back-alley dispensary where users go to get their bud.