If you’ve been following the news, you’ll know the Office of Marijuana Policy recently proposed new rules for the way that Maine’s medical marijuana providers – known as caregivers – operate their businesses. As many as 3,000 caregivers are running businesses in Maine, serving patients as young as toddlers and as old as World War II veterans. While much has been made of the nearly $275 million in annual revenue produced by medical marijuana in Maine, quick math shows the average caregiver is a small operation, often run as a family business inside their own home, with a handful of dedicated patients and a small grow operation.
Here at the Maine Growers Alliance, we are very much in favor of clear rules to help everyone – growers, patients, Maine’s citizens and regulators – feel comfortable medical cannabis is being provided in a safe way, without abuse or neglect, just like any other medical business. And we understand that there are places where the rules for caregivers are out of compliance with recently passed state law. Some adjustments were necessary.
However, the 87-page document we were presented with is a wholesale, substantive change in the way many of us would have to do business and care for our patients, requiring expensive software purchases, security system upgrades and invasions of our privacy that will do nothing to keep patients safe or address any articulated problems with the medical marijuana program.
Like any large document, it was bound to contain things that would need to be changed between the rough, initial draft and the final draft presented. Imagine our surprise, then, when the initial draft remained largely unchanged after literally thousands of public comments, many from patients who fear these regulations will make their medicine more expensive.
Last Monday, we had an opportunity to comment yet again on the draft, via an Office of Marijuana Policy hearing, available for anyone to see on their YouTube channel. We prepared our responses diligently. The language in the document appears to be heavily borrowed from or influenced by the untested adult-use rules, which have been in place only since October, and we are concerned, particularly, that they favor large companies and don’t reflect the Main Street, family values that have driven our industry to such success, nor the differences between medical use and recreational use of cannabis.
Staffers texted during our testimony. Staffers rolled their eyes. Staffers openly grimaced and smirked. Staffers asked virtually no questions of what was unquestionably a group of experts in the field. In fact, neither one staffer, nor the director, stayed through the entirety of the day. We had to take attention away from our patients and businesses for hours, waiting to speak our three minutes, only to have those words fall on deaf ears.
One would think testimony from a group of professionals who have helped build the single largest agricultural industry in the state of Maine would be taken a little more seriously.
Medical marijuana has been legal in Maine for more than a decade. Where are the documented problems that would initiate a wholesale review of the rules? Where is the record of noncompliance? Who has been harmed? Why do we need a lifetime police officer to head up compliance for our industry?
When lobstermen complain about right whale regulations, people jump to attention, though we generate more revenue for the state than they do. When blueberry farmers complain about immigration changes, politicians rush to help them find more visas. It’s difficult to even find the compliance person at the Liquor & Lottery Commission, and their March agenda doesn’t even mention compliance activities or reporting on oversight of their industries. It’s just new products and new games and revenue reporting.
Why is the Office of Marijuana Policy so adversarial with the members of the industry they’re tasked with regulating, when they could be working alongside us toward higher-quality, accessible and affordable medicine for Mainers, progressive integration of cannabis into the Maine health care system and the inexpensive provision of medicine to our state’s veterans?
All we’re asking for is a fair shake. It sure doesn’t feel like we’re getting one, and we’d like to know why.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eben Sumner is a founding board member of the Maine Growers Alliance and CEO of Biddeford-based Casco Bay Hemp.