At the urging of caregivers, state lawmakers have stripped a department-sponsored medical marijuana reform bill of provisions to ban small extraction labs, require federal background checks, limit plant size and institute fines for willful violations.
“We have seen no public health or safety emergency,” said Paul McCarrier, a Belfast medical marijuana store operator and president of Legalize Maine who lobbied against the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy’s proposed program restrictions. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
But the final version of the bill voted out of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee this week still would introduce the first state-mandated laboratory testing of medical cannabis in Maine. The bill would require lab-backed potency results to be put on labels of all medical marijuana sold.
The potency testing requirement would drive up the cost of doing business for small-batch medical marijuana caregivers, most of whom sell under $500 worth of cannabis a week, and drive them out of business, said advocate Dawson Julia, who runs a medical marijuana shop in Unity.
“This is standard procedure from the corporate scum that continually use our government as a weapon to destroy the small competition,” Julia said. “Maine will become just another feeding ground for the blood-sucking vampires of corporate cannabis.”
Supporters say mandated testing protects patients, but Julia said it would actually hurt them by driving up the cost of medicine and driving out caregivers who specialize in one-on-one patient consultation and growing unique medical marijuana strains.
Under current law, the only time that a medical marijuana retailer must test their product is to back up an advertising claim, such as when a product is billed as being pesticide-free or having a certain amount of THC, the part of a marijuana plant that makes a user feel high.
In contrast, all marijuana that will be sold in Maine’s upcoming recreational market must be tested by an independent lab. In the first few months, the state will require basic potency and safety testing, but plans to expand the amount of mandated testing as more labs open.
The committee left the labeling provision in the bill that introduces potency testing to medical cannabis, but most of the changes made to this department-backed bill – such as eliminating fines for willful violations or plans to reduce the size of immature plants – help Maine’s network of 2,600 medical caregivers.
The changes eliminated a provision that would have closed down most small or at-home extraction labs that use alcohol to obtain the cannabis oil used to make infused foods, tinctures or salves by forcing the extractions to be done in expensive commercial-grade labs.
The committee struck a proposed fine schedule the department had sought as a way to censure violators who willfully flouted the medical marijuana program rules, even after the department decided to cut the fines that had originally matched adult-use violation fines in half.
The committee decided against federal background checks for medical marijuana industry participants. The state wanted to make sure they weren’t welcoming people into the program who had committed a disqualifying offense in another state, but caregivers worried it was giving federal authorities a helping hand on who they could arrest in Maine for growing or selling a substance still deemed illegal by federal law.
Maine caregivers sold at least $85.3 million of marijuana in 2019, or 76.5 percent of all Maine’s medical marijuana sales. As large as it is, even that tally doesn’t represent the full economic impact of caregivers, as it’s one month short. Maine only began tracking caregiver tax revenue in February 2019.