The latest growth industry is abuzz with Jewish professionals – wait, not that way.

Last December, Maryland joined 29 other states around the country and Washington, D.C., in making medical marijuana available at licensed dispensaries to qualified patients.

Since then, at least 30 dispensaries, 12 processors and 14 growers have begun operating throughout the state. The emerging industry presents new opportunities for experts from a variety of backgrounds, and local Jewish professionals are wasting no time finding their niche.

“Historically, Jewish entrepreneurs have found ways to be on the vanguard of new industries,” says Jonathan Wachs, 49, a principal at the Columbia location of Offit Kurman Attorneys at Law.

The nascent medical cannabis industry is no exception.

Anticipating a need for legal expertise in this new field, Wachs and his colleagues at Offit Kurman have become cannabis industry advisors. While Wachs says there’s no specific licensing requirement or specialty bar exam needed to provide legal advice on the medical cannabis industry, the firm’s experts provide webinars for professionals considering entering the industry, regular networking events, thought leadership on the business’ operational aspects and individual professional advice.

“It’s not something you want to dabble in,” Wachs says. “You’re dealing with a subject area where there’s a significant conflict between federal and state law. People are using local zoning rules to prevent state licenses from being used. There’s a lot of legal tension.”

Subsequently, Wachs, who heads up the firm’s intellectual property department, now estimates he spends almost 50 percent of his legal schedule on medical cannabis clients. And recently, Offit Kurman has hired attorneys to focus primarily on the emerging industry.

Andy Cohen, the primary Maryland-based partner for Grassroots Cannabis, a national medical cannabis grower and processor, has a great deal of enthusiasm for his latest business venture, the first within the medical cannabis industry.

The self-described serial entrepreneur admits that this is perhaps the most complicated of any startup he’s been involved in. He echoes others’ sentiments as he refers to the complicated regulatory and compliance issues these businesses confront, as well as complex manufacturing requirements. Building a new company in the face of these challenges adds up to 80-plus-hour workweeks for the entrepreneur.

“I’m working crazy hours, harder than I’ve ever worked before,” Cohen, 55, says. “But I love it. It’s so exciting.”

The newness of the industry does make it stimulating, both for those starting a medical cannabis business or supporting it.

Scott Stein is vice president of strategic sales for Strategic Factory in Owings Mills, which provides marketing services and products to local businesses. Strategic Factory currently provides marketing services to Maryland medical cannabis companies at all three licensing levels — cultivating, processing and dispensing. But like other early adopters, there can be obstacles, including public misconceptions to marketing marijuana for medicinal purposes.

It’s the public education and patient advocacy piece that Dr. Nancy Rosen-Cohen, a governor-appointed member of Maryland’s Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Cannabis Commission, brings to the industry.

As executive director of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, she was first appointed to the Governor’s Medical Marijuana Workgroup in 2011, a panel devised to study the effects of medical cannabis. With an educational background in children with seizure disorders, Rosen-Cohen believes strongly in the positive impact that medical cannabis can have on certain patients.

The commission looked to early adopter states like Vermont and Illinois for guidance. Says Rosen-Cohen, “We tried to formulate our policies and procedures based on the positives and pitfalls of other states.”

Despite the state’s cautious approach, even the biggest backers of Maryland’s medical cannabis industry recognize its uncertain future.

“There’s always the existential risk that all of our clients could be out of business,” says Wachs. “The advice we give them is only effective on the date it’s given.”

Unpredictability aside, the industry is moving ahead in Maryland for now, and those who believe in it are proceeding with vigor and pride.

“This is not Cheech and Chong sitting in a room. It is very technical. There’s sophisticated equipment, and all kinds of nutrient expertise,” says Grassroots’ Cohen. “Anybody who’s come to our building for a tour has been astounded by how sophisticated it is.”

Elizabeth Heubeck is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.

Cheat Sheet: The Science of Medical Cannabis 101 By Kyle Fierstien and Brian Sanderoff

Cannabis and cannabis-infused products provide a seemingly all-natural way to deal with a wide variety of medical symptoms. But with the overwhelming number of varietals — each containing a unique mix of phytochemicals (cannabinoids and terpenes alike) that influence the medicine’s effect on the body – is it possible that using the wrong strain could worsen the symptoms one is trying to treat?

For example, consider anxiety. There is a common perception in popular media of the stoner inhabiting a space of unfazed relaxation, which leads many to assume that medical marijuana is an excellent choice for someone suffering from chronic anxiety. But experience has taught specialists that too much THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the cannabinoid responsible for smoker’s euphoria) by itself can instead worsen anxiety. Choosing a strain that offers a higher amount of CBD (cannabidiol) is now proven to be a better choice for someone with extreme anxiety or panic disorder.

The most important thing to keep in mind, as with anything you take into your body, is that you are being chemically altered when you use medical marijuana. As such, it is important to know (or quickly discover) what works for you and how much you can handle. One of the challenging aspects of cannabis as a medicine is that it affects people differently depending upon many factors, including genetics, and the efficiency of function of various organs, including the lungs and the liver. Some of these effects are hard to predict.

When purchasing medical marijuana from a dispensary, take the time to talk to an employee about what symptoms you are looking to treat. More likely than not they will be able to point you toward a strain that will work best for what you need. Additionally, keep a journal of the medicine you are using (strain or product), how much you consume and how often. These results can provide essential information for identifying the best specific strain or cannabis product for you.

Indica vs. Sativa

You may have heard the terms “indica” and “sativa” used before in relation to marijuana. They represent two separate species of cannabis plants that not only produce potentially different effects in their users, but also look quite different.

Indica strains are naturally shorter, and likely originated from harsh, mountainous regions in southern Asia. Effects attributed to indica strains are typically relaxation and relief-based. Body functions are slowed down, and both acute pain and nausea may be alleviated. Indica strains may increase dopamine production within the brain.

Sativa strains are sometimes shockingly tall and, compared to indica strains, sparsely leafed. The effects attributed to sativa strains of marijuana are increased energy and focus. Unlike indica strains, sativas are used to alleviate chronic pain, as well as depression and anxiety. Use increases serotonin production.

An easy way to remember the difference between the two is that sativa strains are associated with daytime activity, and indica is associated with nighttime behavior. (Try this mnemonic: Sun begins with the letter “s” – just like sativa – and an indica is likely to put you “in da couch.”)

The majority of strains commercially available today are hybrids: genetic combinations of various sativa and indica strains. Some hybrids are more sativa-dominant or indica-dominant, while others are more balanced. This is why advice from an educated dispensary employee is vital in finding the strain to best fit your medical need(s).

Kyle Fierstien is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.

Brian Sanderoff, P.D., is a holistic pharmacist and general manager and clinical director of the Curio Wellness Dispensary in Timonium. For information about Curio, visit curiowellness.com.

“What did I have to lose?” By Jmore Interns

Julie, 39, of Elkridge, Md., never considered it an option.

“I had never been exposed to marijuana, so I had no idea what to expect,” she said, adding “my only reference was Cheech and Chong movies.” Julie uses medical marijuana to treat pain related to relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, as well as cerebral palsy. “I was hoping very much that I would get pain relief for my legs, which hurt all day, every day.”

Julie turned to medical marijuana because, after 17 years of using narcotics that didn’t work, she was running out of options. “After much research, and talking to my husband, I decided to try cannabis because what did I have to lose? If it worked, then I would finally have some relief. If it didn’t, I’d go back to what I was already doing.”

Being inexperienced, she turned to the internet when it came time to use marijuana for the first time. “I did a lot of research, mostly on the internet, and vaping seemed the best option for a newbie. I watched dozens of YouTube videos about smoking it, and it just seemed a little overwhelming.” After a bit of trial and error, Julie figured it out; although she wasn’t initially sure if she liked how it made her feel. “My first experience was very strange, and it scared me a little.”

Now that she’s gotten the hang of taking marijuana for her pain management, she notices the difference it has made in her life. “It’s helped greatly with the muscle spasms, and I’ve actually gotten off the muscle relaxants altogether.”

“I do not want to be high”

Unlike Julie, Rachel, 36, from Hamilton, Ontario, tried marijuana before using it medicinally.

“I was 15 and smoked with friends. I didn’t like the feeling at all and haven’t smoked it since.” She describes feeling paranoid after that first encounter with marijuana, a sensation that someone with anxiety — one of the many symptoms she uses cannabis to alleviate, along with chronic pain from degenerative disk disease, PTSD and migraines — would have a hard time coping with.

“I do not want to be high. I can’t use pain meds as they make me ill,” says Rachel.  Another reason she has turned to marijuana is to help her relax despite her many ailments and stressful life. “I need to care for my 5-year-old with leukemia. I wanted a medication to help relax me and help with the pain [that would also] allow me to function.”

What’s the difference between her first experience as a 15-year-old and now? According to Rachel, “When using the correct strain and dose there is no high feeling at all!”

“This is not for ‘potheads’,” says Rachel. “The patients I have met are not at all like that stereotype.”

Watch cannabis attorney Jonathan Wachs on Need to Know — JBiz edition on facebook.com/jmoreliving: