Hundreds of Maine medical cannabis patients and caregivers rose solemnly on Monday, one after the other, to explain to the state's regulatory body -- the Office of Marijuana Policy (OMP) -- their range of objections to a vast and potentially devastating set of changes being proposed to existing medical cannabis regulations.
The proposed regulatory changes being considered by OMP, many of those testifying on Monday explained, would not only put thousands of the State's local grassroots caregivers (be they retailers, cultivators or manufacturers) out of business but, they said, those family operations that were able to remain operational would be forced to pass on hundreds of dollars per ounce of flower in new costs to medical patients.
Donald Gardner, a local caregiver from Knox County, Maine, told the OMP that "the over intensity of these proposed regulations" would "hinder the very existence" of his small business.
"I cannot emphasize the word over-burdensome enough", said Gardner in an impassioned voice, "[these proposed regulations] will be the end of my business. It is that simple. And I won't be the only one. I am genuinely terrified of these new changes. I simply won't be able to do this anymore if you pass these regulations and I will be in the unemployment line".
Dawson Julia, a caregiver from Unity, Maine and the Director of the Maine Cannabis Coalition, explained in his testimony that, along with other objections, he felt the proposed rules are out of compliance with state law as the regulations were presented for a public hearing without a fiscal impact study.
In response, Erik Gunderson, Director of OMP, said that the fiscal impact study required by law "would be provided."
Advocates responded, however, that Maine law makes clear today's public hearing should not have occurred absent that financial impact state.
Title 5, Part 18, Chapter 375 §8063 of the Maine Administrative Procedure Act requires that "[e]very rule proposed by an agency must contain a fiscal impact note at the end of the rule. The note must be placed on the rule prior to any public hearing..."
Beyond that procedural defect, Julia went on, forcing small local caregivers to use seed to sale tracking would be in violation of the Maine medical statute which requires caregivers provide only records of "transfers" of marijuana plants rather than a full seed to sale tracking system as proposed in OMP's draft regulations.
Another registered caregiver, Robert "Babyboi" Jeffrey, said in an interview after his testimony that he feared for the future of his family after reading the new proposed OMP rules. "These proposed changes will, without question, force me to close my newly registered business before it is even up and operational."
"If they impose these rules" said Jeffrey, "I won't even be able to afford to open my doors."
One of the only individuals to testify in support of the regulations as proposed, Malina Dumas, an attorney with the law firm Drummond Woodsum, interestingly did not disclose in her spoken remarks that the law firm for which she works represents both Maine operations -- Maine Organic Therapy and Remedy Compassion -- owned by Curaleaf (an 11 billion dollar multi-state operator, or MSO).
Some local caregivers, including Thomas Portlock from Buxton Maine, expressed their dismay that "OMP had decided to partner with out of state lobbyists, like Andrew Friedman who works for Phillip-Moriss" when writing the proposed draft regulations.
"I think its highly suspect and it really concerns me", said Portlock, "when private corporations use the power and the violence of the state to intentionally crush and bend markets to their will...and I believe OMP's participation in allowing out of state private interest corporations to intentionally crush and manipulate our market in Maine is participation in that kind of immorality."
Happening simultaneously on Monday morning, interestingly enough, Maine's Legislature was holding a hearing on a bill (LD. 656) that would ban employees of the Office of Marijuana Policy from working for the cannabis industry for 24 months following their departure from employment at the state agency.
This timing resulted in confusing scenes, as scores of advocates, medical patients and caregivers were seen frantically switching between the dueling (virtual) hearings to ensure they would be able to provide their oral comments for the record.
Mr. Julia, speaking at the Committee Hearing on LD. 656 before his testimony in front of the OMP itself, explained a long history of individuals working for the state's cannabis regulatory agencies going on to take industry jobs in the near immediate aftermath of their time working at OMP.
In fact, said Julia, in the last 10 years, two high ranking employees of the state's cannabis regulatory bodies -- former Department of Health and Human Services head Catherine Cobb and former Manager of Maine's Medical Marijuana Program Marietta D'Agostino -- went on to take positions in the industry (including D'Agostino, who went on to work, for a time, at MSO Curaleaf).
It was Curaleaf who, last month, sent an attorney working for the two Curaleaf-owned companies in Maine, to testify against bills proposed at the Maine State House that would allow caregivers to operate as collectives (of up to 5 businesses) and to grow 60 cannabis plants (as opposed to the current limit of 30 plants per caregiver).
Putting a stop to the "revolving door" between the the State's regulatory agencies and the companies they regulate would be the foundational reform sought by the proposed legislation, argued its proponents and authors.
"This was a bill that the Maine Cannabis Coalition wrote, and we asked Rep. Ben Collins to submit it for us, and we're very proud of this bill", said Julia in his public comments at the Committee hearing.
Back at the OMP hearing, the hours ticked on as a seemingly endless stream of public comments in opposition to the proposed regulatory changes to Maine's medical program continued.
Roughly 4 hours into the hearing, caregiver Arleigh Kraus from Warren, Maine voiced her strong objections. "In reading the draft and proposed rules, one can be certain that the voice of the Maine people was not included in them." Kraus went on, "The rule changes would be outright destructive for the medical cannabis program; restricting patient access by redefining the bonafide patient-physician relationship, outrageous security requirements, preventing small caregivers from owning a retail store...these are just some of the policy changes that have been crafted to kill the medical cannabis program in Maine as we know it."
The OMP is expected to take feedback from today's public comment session into account before proposing additional changes to the existing draft proposal.
Some, however, were not hopeful that today's outpouring of input from caregivers and patients would make a difference.
Said Jeffrey, "I do not believe OMP cared what patients or caregivers had to say today, nor do I think they will change their regulations."
"Although I hope" Jeffrey went on after drawing a deep breath of reflection, "for the sake of so many mom-and-pop companies in Maine that they do".