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Two Maine legislators are coming to the defense of Maine’s medical marijuana program with a bill that would place a moratorium on a set of proposed regulations and require greater input from the industry before any further rule changes are implemented.
Co-sponsored by Rep. Lynne Williams, D-Bar Harbor, and Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, the bill would require that in order to amend the rules governing the medical cannabis program, the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy must consult “caregivers, registered caregivers and patients and physicians and certified nurse practitioners with significant knowledge and experience certifying patients under the laws governing the medical use of marijuana.”
The proposed bill comes just days after medical marijuana patients and providers, known in the industry as caregivers, slammed the proposed rules in a seven-hour public hearing, claiming that the medical program would not survive the changes.
Speakers repeatedly asked officials from the Office of Marijuana Policy to go back to the drawing board and, this time, give caregivers, patients, cultivators and manufacturers a seat at the table.
The newly proposed legislation would do that and more.
According to the draft bill, the office would not only be required to consult with caregivers, registered medical cannabis customers, physicians and nurse practitioners, but also establish a set of clear parameters and qualifications for any consultant regulators hope to hire in the future.Advertisement
“This bill will allow the legislature to hear from some of the thousands of Maine patients and caregivers who would be negatively impacted if these rules take effect, and I am happy to be able to offer them another path forward to maintain their businesses and their patient care,” Williams said in a statement.
In January, the Office of Marijuana Policy released a preliminary draft of rule changes to the medical program that officials said were “meant to align the program with state law.”
However, according to the bill, the rules go beyond just technical changes and are instead “major changes that warrant legislative involvement and oversight.”
If passed, the bill would require lawmaker input and a more robust public process, Williams said in an interview Thursday.
Among other proposed changes, the updated rules would require all registered medical cannabis caregivers, dispensaries and manufacturing facilities to implement a “seed-to-sale” or “track-and-trace” system, currently used in the adult-use program.
That would require providers to track all marijuana plants or harvested marijuana daily from “immature plant” to point of sale or disposal.
The proposed changes also would require strict security measures, including 24-hour camera surveillance and an alarm system for every provider. Surveillance data must be stored for 30 days.
Caregivers said they worry that the security systems, alarms, track-and-trace system and other new rules would be too expensive for them to survive.
“The sheer cost alone of the seed-to-sale tracking, in addition to the new security requirements, are enough to literally bankrupt my business,” Donald Gardner, a Knox County caregiver, said during Monday’s hearing. “I’m genuinely petrified of these new changes.”
Gardner isn’t the only one who feels that way. Many others in the industry and their customers expressed similar concerns at the hearing.
According to the bill, the proposed rules would “significantly damage the well-being and health of tens of thousands of citizens of the state by restricting their access to medical marijuana” and do “irreparable economic harm” to not only the thousands of medical marijuana caregivers and their employees, but also to the state economy.
Maine’s most vulnerable communities – rural towns with aging populations – would be hit the hardest, according to the proposed legislation.
Williams, an attorney specializing in business law, represents a number of small cannabis businesses.
“The rules are really untenable for the small medical marijuana cultivator,” she said. “This is the most audacious set of rules that I’ve seen.”
The state’s medical marijuana program, which has more than 3,000 registered caregivers and eight dispensaries, garnered roughly $266 million in sales last year, making cannabis Maine’s most valuable crop.
The bill would be effective retroactively, meaning that any regulatory changes deemed “major (and) substantive” that were made after Jan. 1, 2018, would be voided, requiring officials to go before the Legislature, Williams said.
Among other changes, the bill would eliminate the requirement that a caregiver, dispensary, testing facility or manufacturing facility complete an annual audit conducted by a third party and do away with a requirement that state regulators develop and implement a statewide electronic portal for caregivers, manufacturers, testing facilities and cultivators to submit records to the Office of Marijuana Policy.
The bill’s next step is a yet-unscheduled public hearing before the Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs.
According to David Heidrich, spokesman for the Office of Marijuana Policy, the department is reviewing the proposal and expects to offer input when the bill goes to the public hearing.