Updated on June 28, 2021.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
The Maine Office of Marijuana Policy (OMP) is ruffling some big feathers. They have announced that they are considering an amendment to the medical marijuana guidelines. And the suggestions to amend medical marijuana in the state of Maine were a list about 80 pages long.
The public always has the right to review proposed legislation under the Freedom of Information Act provisions. And voters, of course in Maine, will want to know how the medical cannabis and caregiver program they fought so hard to pass is facing major restrictions.
There are approximately 2,500 registered caregivers in Maine. The new requirements proposed in the amendment could cost caregivers more than $25,000 to comply. To install specific software required to provide real-time tracking of cannabis through all supply chains. Including parents or guardians who are growing for a family member with a medical card.
Locking down the flow of homegrown cannabis by caregivers seems to be the goal. And of course, reducing Black Market sale and distribution. But is this an attempt to ‘squeeze out the little guys? The ones who are not selling but rather growing for the exclusive use of a minor or adult patient? Caregivers who are also selling medicinal marijuana to other patients and cardholders?
Technological processes to track weed were not the only things that would change in the wish list from the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy (OMP). And it may threaten affordability and accessibility for patients who need alternatives to purchasing in a conventional dispensary.
The Unique Rights Given to OMP Registered Caregivers in Maine
Have you ever been to Maine? Like many states, Maine has its way of doing things. So, when it came to formulating a medical cannabis program, some aspects were conventional. But when it came to the rights that registered caregivers were provided? It was a generous expansion compared to other states.
Any individual (who meets the standard of application, including no prior history of drug or violent crimes) can register as a caregiver if they are twenty-one (21) years of age or older. In some states, the number of patients a caregiver can provide is limited to (1) or (2). However, there is no limit to how many patients a caregiver can serve in the state of Maine.
This created a microbusiness opportunity for reputable home-growers. Let’s say that a primary caregiver has five, ten, or twenty patients? They are permitted to grow and harvest (and hire employees) to supply their patients. Caregivers are permitted to treat as many patients who are registered to their care as possible, given the limits to their cultivation.
The intention of the expanded legal business activities for a caregiver was to ensure accessibility for patients. And to ensure an adequate supply of medical marijuana for registered patients. Maine has also instituted a reciprocity agreement. Caregivers can also provide cannabis to patients with medical cards from other states.
Moving to Protect Local Grow Operations and Retail Medical Cannabis Dispensaries
Maine has been slow to develop a large number of medical dispensaries. But the state also wants to discourage MSO (multi-state operators) from entering the market. In fact, current medical marijuana retailers and producers just went to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on April 8th, 2021. They want residency laws enacted to prevent out-of-state operators from impacting small local growers.
In May 2020, Wellness Connection (a dispensary chain that is 49% owned by a Delaware investor) made a legal challenge. The MSO stated that it was unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment, which prevents restrictive commercial regulations between states. And since that care, Maine marijuana governance has not held the residency requirement.
Local operators in Maine want that adhered to in order to protect the growing in-state cannabis businesses and entrepreneurs. That means anyone wanting to start a medical cannabis business would have to be a resident in the state for four or more years. Showing income tax statements to verify residency for at least four years.
Attorney General Aaron Frey told the United Cannabis Patients and Caregivers of Maine that such restrictions to MSOs would present constitutional challenges. And blocking out-of-state cannabis investors would likely “not hold up in court.” Bangor Daily News reported that a lawsuit filed by United Cannabis Patients and Caregivers of Maine in favor of residency requirements was thrown out in August 202 by the Maine Superior Court.
Adult-use or recreational marijuana sales to adults twenty-one (21) years of age or older was legalized in 2020. Retail sales of cannabis for non-cardholders were to commence in October 2020. Four long years after it was legislatively approved in 2016.
Proposed Changes for Maine Medical Marijuana Caregivers
Adult-use or recreational marijuana sales to adults twenty-one (21) years of age or older was legalized in 2020. Retail sales of cannabis for non-cardholders were to commence in October 2020. Four long years after it was legislatively approved in 2016. Accessibility to cannabis isn’t going to be a problem for residents in Maine for much longer.
However, suppose the amendments proposed in 18-691CMR go through. In that case, it will limit the scope of service that registered caregivers can provide whether they have established a retail storefront to serve patients in their care or operating under license from home.
There are about 3,000 registered medical cannabis caregivers in the state. The majority of caregivers operate cultivation, trimming and processing, consultation, and sales from their own home. In the first 10 months of 2020, sales of cannabis in Maine were over $220M.
Under the new proposal, Maine’s caregivers would have to use tracking ‘seed to sale’ software developed by Metrc, LLC. The company just signed a six-year $540K contract with Maine. Caregivers would have to pay $40 per month in licensing fees to use the software. And they would also have to invest $25,000 to buy and install the new transaction and sales tracking software.
Caregivers would also have to install security camera equipment and store more camera footage showing operations and transactions. Currently, caregivers are required to store for 30 days. The new amendments would require the storage of 45 days of recorded footage that regulators could review at any time.
Were Caregiver Laws Temporary While Maine Established a Strong Retail Marketplace?
Some caregivers and patient care groups feel they are being squeezed out of the market. The new proposed amendments would create a significant financial and operational burden on caregivers. Large retail medical or adult-use dispensaries would be able to weather the expenses. Independent home operating caregivers may not.
And that has a lot of people worried about protecting the cost of medical marijuana for patients. If Maine opts to gently segue from a large network of caregivers to retail dispensaries, patients could feel two impacts. First, they may not live near a retail dispensary. Or afford to travel to one on a frequent basis. Second, patients could see an increased cost per ounce for medical and adult-use cannabis. Big retail operations cost a lot of money, and that cost of doing business is passed on to the consumer (patient).
Some states like Texas instituted temporary dispensaries while deciding on legislation for medical marijuana. Did Maine intend to make the caregiver retail provision temporary also? Will the state migrate caregivers away from all retail operational models? And limit caregivers only to legal guardians for one to two patients maximum, as per the laws in other states?
It may be heading in that direction. And patients living in Maine who want affordable medical marijuana and ease of accessibility aren’t happy about it. And neither are the cottage industry caregivers who have been compliant and providing an essential service to patients.