Medical marijuana caregivers in Maine are speaking out against proposed rules that would, among other things, require them to electronically track their products across the supply chain and adopt 24-hour video surveillance in some places of their business.
Regulators at the state Office of Marijuana Policy have said that the changes are meant to align the medical marijuana program with a series of new state laws that have been passed in the last few years.
The 80-page proposal would also align the state’s medical rules more closely with those of its fledgling recreational cannabis program, which launched last fall.
But in written public comments and during a daylong public hearing on Monday, a number of small caregivers from across the state opposed the changes.
They have argued that they already operate safely and responsibly under state rules that were last updated three years ago, and that the new ones would be too costly, burdensome and intrusive for them to follow without an expansion in the number of plants they can legally grow.
Maine first legalized medical marijuana more than 20 years ago. Now, there are about 3,000 registered caregivers who are legally allowed to grow cannabis and provide it to certified patients, sometimes from their own storefronts but in many cases out of their homes.
Medical marijuana, which can also be sold at dispensaries around the state, has become Maine’s most valuable agricultural product. The market brought in $222 million in sales in the first 10 months of 2020, according to the latest data.
One of the most controversial new proposals from the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy would require all registered caregivers, dispensaries and manufacturers to use tracking software that’s already used in the state’s adult-use recreational program. That software was developed by a Florida company, Metrc LLC, which entered a six-year, $540,000 contract with the state at the start of last year, according to the Portland Press Herald.
To use the program, caregivers would have to pay a roughly $40 monthly licensing fee to use the software, plus additional fees for equipment and the tracking tags that must be placed on individual products. State officials have pointed out that one of the state’s recently passed medical marijuana laws, from 2019, mandates the creation of such an electronic tracking program.
But some caregivers argue that those and other new costs would be prohibitive for independent caregivers and their patients, especially those in less wealthy parts of the state, and that such a big change needs more consideration by the Legislature.
“This will force certain people in rural or low-income areas to resort to the black market,” said Nicoli Botti, one of the caregivers who testified against the changes on Monday.
State Sen. David Miramant, a Democrat from Knox County, said during testimony that lawmakers should get a chance to provide input on the rules.
After receiving more than 1,500 written public comments on the draft rule changes when they were first announced at the start of this year, state regulators made a variety of changes to them, such as eliminating new security requirements for caregivers that operate out of their own dwelling and reducing the number of days of security camera footage that caregivers must store from 45 to 30.
They now plan to accept additional public comments through April 1, then finalize the new rules after that.
On Monday, Catherine Lewis, board chair for the trade group Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, said that she appreciated the updates that regulators made after the first round of public comments, but that she was still “greatly disturbed” by the remaining proposals.
“It shows that caregivers who shared our concerns are not being heard,” she said.