Medical Marijuana Program Lessons Learned: Permitting Processes (Part Two)

Medical Marijuana is legal in 34 states and the District of Columbia, with legalization being considered in at least a half dozen other states. Despite the uptick in legalization, expertise within this nascent field remains scarce. Harnessing our experience leading five state medical marijuana programs, we’ve unpacked the actionable insights that other states can apply to their respective program journeys. In this blog, we’ll examine the role of permitting.

Permitting can be a complicated multi-step process for medical marijuana programs. Regulators are tasked with ensuring applicants demonstrate their eligibility and qualification, all while under the watchful eye of the public and the media. From our experience in multiple states, we’ve identified a clear set of best practices in approaching the permitting process.

Set applicants up for success:

Help applicants submit their best possible applications and limit additional work internally


  • Disseminate information about the permitting process to prospective applicants. With access to more information and instruction upfront, applicants will be able to submit higher quality applications with fewer errors or omissions. Information about the permitting process can be posted on a program’s website or shared at an in-person event. In-person events are especially useful as they allow potential applicants to have questions answered quickly and get a clear understanding of program direction and expectations.
  • Employ a digital application submission process. A digital application, powered by an online portal, limits the potential for user error and accidental omissions. Data requirements in the online application will ensure that applicants complete each part of the application, and the detail they provide will be consistent across all applications. In doing so, reviewers are spared the burden of rejecting applications for reasons other than content and minimizes potential litigation.

Smarter use of data:

Store data from digital applications in a database to improve data integrity and remove the need for manual entry



  • Focus on data integrity. Clean applicant data can be easily queried to produce reports while limiting the potential for human error. The benefits of an applicant database continue as the permitting process moves from accepting applications to assessing their content. Particularly as questions emerge from the public and right to know requests are submitted, having a reliable source of applicant data proves critical for developing timely and accurate reports
  • Ensure that your database is configured to capture decision points for each applicant and supporting evidence for such decisions, as well as a function that requires timely updates of an applicant’s status. Overall, a database offers a reliable location for storing and analyzing data throughout the permitting process, while mitigating the risk of inaccurate reporting.

Evaluating permit applications:

Mitigate the challenges associated with a high quantity of applicants, subsequent scrutiny in the evaluation process, and the need to quantify text-heavy applications



  • Conduct robust due diligence in the selection of the evaluators to expose any potential conflict of interest before evaluations begin. Any factor that could impede an evaluator’s ability to consider an application with impartiality must be mitigated.
  • Instill equity, consistency, and impartiality in the evaluation process. A failure to do so has led to public scrutiny and litigation in many states. This can be accomplished by equipping evaluators with the time and resources they need to uniformly review and weigh each application.

Permitting is among the linchpins to medical marijuana program implementation success. By empowering program applicants to submit their best possible applications, capitalizing on the promise of digital, and developing a rigorous evaluation and vetting process, states will be better equipped to achieve medical marijuana program trust, credibility, and—ultimately—outcomes.

In the next installment of our series, we’ll examine the role of data and systems in medical marijuana program implementation.

Click here to read parts one, three, and four of our series.