Just two days ago, Maine medical cannabis patients and caregivers spent over 7 hours testifying in front of the state's cannabis regulatory body (the Office Of Marijuana Policy, or OMP) to express their laundry list of concerns related to a slate of proposed changes to the existing framework for medical use cannabis in the state.
Today, lawmakers and a group of advocates have introduced emergency legislation to put a stop to that rule making-process. Said the Maine Craft Cannabis Association in a press release sent to me just minutes ago,
"After a tumultuous public hearing on the Mills administration’s proposed rules, which would radically overhaul Maine's world-class medical marijuana program, Rep. Lynne Williams (D –Bar Harbor) and Senate President Troy Jackson (D – Allagash) have introduced LD 1242 ‘An Act To Ensure Appropriate Oversight of Maine's Medical Marijuana Program’, placing a moratorium on rule changes and ensuring that the process for future changes includes the voices of patients, caregivers and health professionals with experience in treating patients with cannabis in Maine."
Maine's unique ecosystem for medical cannabis, which allows for a 5,000+ strong network of local mom and pop caregiver operations, is looked to as a national model for an authentic, community driven cannabis marketplace.
Regulators in Maine however (working hand in hand with large corporate cannabis operators seeking to enter the state's nascent adult use cannabis industry), see things differently; a lack of (expensive) security requirements and other oversight measures, they say, make it difficult for the state to oversee the budding industry.
Not so, advocates and current caregiver operations retort; current rules, they point out, are established in state law and meant to facilitate compliance while also providing low barriers to entry for smaller operators seeking to furnish low cost medication to patients.
As a result, those extra security costs and other regulatory hurdles frustrate low cost patient access and would force a large number of those local grassroots operators to shutter their doors.
And so went Monday's hearing, for nearly 7 uninterrupted hours, as patients and caregivers pleaded with OMP to put the roll out of the proposed updates to the medical cannabis rules on hold while a financial impact study, and other concerns, are addressed.
That decision, however, may be taken out of OMP Director Erik Gunderson's hands entirely should the proposed bill pass.
The measure (LD 1242), entitled, "An Act To Ensure Appropriate Oversight of Maine's Medical Marijuana Program", would prohibit OMP from making any changes to its medical cannabis rules without first obtaining input from "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"
Further, the law proposes, OMP "must consult with caregivers, registered caregivers, patients, physicians and certified nurse practitioners."
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Lynne Williams of Bar Harbor, was quoted in today's press release as saying, "“I want to thank Sen. Jackson, Rep. Dillingham, Sen. Hickman and my colleagues from all different political walks of life for their support of this bill and this effort to protect Maine’s incredibly valuable Medical Marijuana Program."
Said Rep. Williams. “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.”
OMP's current process for updating its draft regulations was heavily criticized by members of the public earlier this week, including local caregiver Thomas Portlock from Buxton Maine, who 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.
Today's release from the Maine Craft Cannabis Association continued;
"'As I know it, the Maine medical marijuana program is an exemplary beacon of hope for those with cancer, epilepsy, and other life threatening and debilitating illnesses. It is a job creator in the rural and urban areas of the state', said Arleigh Kraus, a Warren, Maine farmer and medical marijuana caregiver. 'These rule changes will make it harder and more expensive for patients I have personally helped for years to get the medicine they need. I hope that the lawmakers reviewing changes to Maine’s thriving medical marijuana industry see the harm these changes will do to family farmers in Maine.'
"Patients and caregivers complained about the unbalanced influence of giant multinational corporations in Maine's medical marijuana rules. Notably, only attorneys representing Curaleaf, a Russian-billionaire-backed company aiming to be the ‘Frito-Lay’ of cannabis, supported the OMP’s Proposed Rule. Curaleaf operates two of Maine’s 8 dispensaries and an Adult Use store in Bangor with more planned.
"Mark Barnett, Executive Chair of the Maine Craft Cannabis Association, highlighted the backwards thinking behind the push: 'These rules would cost small businesses upwards of$50,000 each and in some case multiples of that, somehow funded only by debt, resulting in well over $100 million in higher costs to patients. How could you possibly believe Mainers can afford this right now? Where is the data sufficient to justify this apparent class war? We haven’t seen it, because it doesn’t exist.'"
Read the release in full below;