At a marathon five hour hearing on Wednesday before Maine's Office of Marijuana Policy (OMP) a series of local caregivers, medical patients and advocates testified in opposition to a sweeping set of proposed changes to the state's medical program, suggesting a number of those rules, if implemented, would shutter the doors of thousands of smaller operators and result in drastic price increases for the most vulnerable.
Written testimony on the new rules will be accepted until Sunday, February 13, 2022 at 11:59PM EST.
Maine's unique ecosystem for medical cannabis, which has created a thriving 3,000+ strong network of local mom and pop caregiver operations, is looked to as a national model for an authentic, community driven cannabis marketplace and that structure, say caregivers, would be directly undermined by the slate of proposed rule changes from OMP -- rule changes that were initially delayed following intervention from the Maine legislature, at the behest of advocates, in the summer of 2021.
"That is the biggest concern we have here; these regulations as presented would significantly increase the costs of doing business for legal operators in the state and, if those costs were passed on to patients, we could see those costs driving patients to the unregulated market...." said Paul T. McCarrier, a caregiver from Belfast Maine and a member of OMP's Medical Marijuana Working Group, during his testimony.
Pointing to a broken drafting process to create the new rules along with burdensome security requirements, overly complex track and trace requirements (Maine lawmakers have already prevented OMP from mandating the use of the third party service METRC for that purpose), reporting requirements that would violate patient privacy, a (potentially illegal) ban on caregivers forming certain types of business entities and a limit of only a single area per caregiver for cultivation, hundreds of speakers voiced similar opposition directly to OMP Executive Director Erik Gunderson and other agency staff members, while only a single voice testified in support of the proposed rules.
As Mark Barnett, the Executive Chair of the Maine Craft Cannabis Association, explained in his testimony in opposition to the proposed regulations;
"Last year's rules, which every participant told you would kill this program, failed with massive nonpartisan opposition (and some of the most incredible pieces of that are gone) but this proposal still seems to reflect what I view, and many in the community view, as an extra-statutory agenda. [An agenda that] is aimed, in my view, at reducing participation in the program and...limit[ing] access to Maine's amazing [medical] cannabis products."
In a moment of foreshadowing, Barnett was also cut-off by Director Gunderson as Barnett began to explain lawmakers on Maine's Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee would be holding a hearing next week to discuss a bill (LD. 1784) that would require a formal vote of the full Maine Legislature before any proposed changes from OMP related to the medical program can go into effect.
Gunderson smirked at Barnett when the topic was initially brought up, before shutting down the discussion, in a hint at the underlying political dynamics at play between the executive branch (where the OMP resides) and the legislative branch of Maine's government.
"I know some people think we have gone too far with certain aspects of this process, and that is part of the reason we hold public feedback sessions...", said the OMP Director at one point during the meeting.