HALLOWELL, Maine – Eddie Dugay’s cannabis dispensary in this town of fewer than 2,500 along the Kennebec River might not exist in most states that allow medical marijuana.
From the outside, the shop looks like a typical New England house, with white side walls, a gable roof, and dark, faded shutters. The inside has the same homely feel, though the menus advertise everything from marijuana flowers to infused gums. The wallpaper doesn’t quite match the floral couch or the bold colors of the ceiling draped over a chair.
It is precisely the atmosphere of stores like Dugay’s 4Twenty that Maine medical cannabis advocates say makes their program unique and sets it apart from the polish of the marijuana chains that are increasingly dominating the market and advocates in many states of cannabis shy away from the emerging industry.
Now the state is in the process of introducing stricter regulations that would treat all medical marijuana companies – from little moms and pops to billion dollar giants – almost equally. Many of these small businesses, known as “maintainers,” fear that the proposed rules will quickly drive them out of the market in favor of corporate cannabis.
“They’re trying to over-regulate us because they really don’t want us with them,” said Dugay. “I call it gentrification of medical marijuana.”
Maine’s network of mom and pop marijuana stores has grown rapidly in the three years since the state law was changed to allow them to expand their operations to become more competitive with larger pharmacies that are in the number of plants or patients that they could accommodate were not limited to serving. Caregivers were allowed to open retail stores, grow more plants, wholesale up to 75 percent of their crops, and hire more than one employee.
There are now more than 3,120 licensed nurses in the state employing more than 5,200 people. Marijuana is Maine’s # 1 agricultural commodity and $ 200 million industry. Caregivers like Dugay are for more than 75 percent of those sales. However, the proposed regulations include stricter safety requirements, stricter fines, and mandatory tracking of all marijuana products from seed to sale. State lawmakers are also pushing for mandatory contaminant testing to be extended to the medical marijuana market.
Many of these caregivers are now banding together to fight the new rules that they say threaten their very existence. The battle in Maine over new market rules is an extreme example of what is happening across the country as the quasi-legal cannabis industry turns into a huge corporation that had sales of $ 20 billion last year. Nursing advocates scored a victory last week in the final days of a special legislative session when the House and Senate overwhelmingly voted to pause the proposed rules backed by one of the largest cannabis companies in the country.
Maine’s Office of Marijuana Policy introduced one in March marathon public hearing in draft proposed regulations, to which most nurses expressed their vehement opposition within seven hours.
One of Few people who testified in their favor were a lobbyist representing Curaleaf, a huge cannabis company with cannabis operations in 23 states and estimated sales of $ 1 billion that year. Nurses argue that large companies and their lobbyists are inappropriately influencing the rules.
OMP director Erik Gundersen said his agency would not be inappropriately influenced. “We have rulebook creation consultants who have been incredibly helpful on the way to becoming the adult program,” he said in an interview. “But the rules are worked out [in Maine] of OMP employees. “
For Dugay, becoming a medical cannabis operator was the obvious next step in a career that took him from the Navy to the halls of the Maine Capitol as a state representative. After he quit, he became a lobbyist and advisor who helped people start cannabis businesses before clicking, “What am I doing?” He remembered how he had thought when he decided to open his own shop. “I know how to do that.”
A home industry is emerging
California sparked the modern day marijuana legalization movement when it did Voters passed a medical cannabis law in 1996. Maine voters followed suit in 1999, as part of a second wave of states adopting medical marijuana.
In the early days of Maine’s medical marijuana program, there were few rules.
Over the years, both voters and lawmakers have tweaked the program, approving patient nurses, nonprofit pharmacies, and patient ID cards. Laws Adopted from 2010 to 2014, refined the regulatory framework and introduced pesticide restrictions to protect patient safety.
But it was 2018 that marked the biggest shift in the program. Until then, the nursing staff was limited to six patients, and there were many barely getting through financially. But with just eight pharmacies scattered across a state with more than 1.3 million people, proponents say Nursing staff have been vital in providing patients with access to medicinal cannabis.
Becoming a caregiver became a more profitable business instead of a daily struggle for survival. Medical marijuana sales in 2020 were nearly $ 222 million, compared to $ 184 million for potatoes and $ 26 million for blueberries – the two food crops the state is best known for.
State representative Patty Hymanson, a neurologist and chairman of the House Health and Human Services Committee, recalls the day in 2018 when The legislature has put various “stakeholders” of the cannabis program in a room to reach an agreement on a revision of the medical marijuana program. Everyone from large pharmacy representatives to smaller nurses worked on a deal for two days.
In the end, “legislators agreed to expand the nursing profession so that they can build a business that is bigger than before,” she said in an interview. “In return, it was clear that they would be more strictly regulated.”
Track and test controversies
With the start of leisure sales in October 2020, the market is facing another major upheaval. Adult sales topped $ 5.3 million in May, an almost four-fold increase from the first month of sales. State regulators are trying to thread the needle between maintaining the nursing market and strengthening public safety as a recreational activity Market is growing rapidly.
The OMP made many changes to the draft rule that initially sparked outrage, but it broke its rule-making when the legislature returned to a seven-week special session and competing bills were tabled to address the controversy. A measure that is borne by many Small business owners, would pause the rules and require the OMP to consult with caregivers, patients and health care providers earlier in the process. A competing invoice would delay implementation for “home care workers”.
Last week, the nursing-backed bill was successful in both chambers with 117-25 votes in the House of Representatives and 32-2 in the Senate. “This is the biggest consensus they’ve had this year,” said Mark Barnett, who owns a nurse front store called Higher Grounds in Portland, Maine.
But the passage of the law is only the beginning of a long process of cooperation. “It’s not about not having no rules,” he said. “We are all in the same state, we all have the same interests [and] we have to find places where these can overlap. ”
One of the biggest concerns of nurses is to have a mandatory seed-to-sale tracking system in place. The program would be run by Metrc, a Florida-based software company that has similar programs in 15 other states and Washington, D.C. operates. Tracking marijuana plants with radio frequency tags as they move through the supply chain is designed to help governments ensure compliance in the legal marijuana market.
But skeptical caregivers point out cannabis companies in other states that have Implementation found expensive. Oklahoma medical cannabis companies attempt to halt Metrc adoption in a legal challenge against the state. And a Missouri court recently ruled against the company when it found medical marijuana companies were not required to pay for plant labels.
Nurses fear that the system in more rural parts of the state will be plagued by inadequate internet and electricity access. Above all, however, they fear the potential workload and not the costs for software or system labels. Some in the industry have suggested that small caregivers should be completely exempted from tracking seeds through to sales.
Nurses like Calvin Akers and Jim Dube, co-founders of Wisely Cannabis in Sanford, have already hired a dedicated employee who specializes in data and compliance. Both started growing cannabis in grow tents at home before expanding into more commercial operations.
The affable co-founders endured local government meetings where angry local residents accused them of trying to sell drugs to children. The city previously banned cannabis companies from advertising with signs, so the only reference to their pharmacy is a large sign on the building that reads “OFFICE”. But that’s set to change soon, thanks to a change in local rules.
Business is doing well for Wisely, which has carved out a niche for solvent-free extracts in the Maine market. The process involves concentrating the plant’s resin without the use of solvents such as butane or carbon dioxide.
Akers and Dube have combined their two supervisor units under one roof, so that between them they have 1000 square meters of cultivation space instead of the individual limit of 500 square meters each. You have 10 employees and a retail store with another store in the works.
Metrc says the tracking System is designed to be accessible. The company offers free onboarding courses and webinars, as well as free support.
“Farmers don’t necessarily use software on a daily basis [operations]”said David Urbanowicz, external affairs director for Metrc.” Ours [user interface] is super user-friendly … [and] designed to mimic the workflow. “
Urbanowicz says larger companies may choose to hire a dedicated compliance officer, but smaller companies that grow fewer crops may not need to.
Testing is another important area of concern for caregivers. Hymanson presented an invoice for that session that would require mandatory testing of all medical cannabis products. Although it was rejected in the Veterans and Legal Committee last month, efforts will almost certainly continue to be made to impose testing requirements on nurses.
While most mom and pop owners recognize that marijuana products require some scrutiny, they fear that too strict rules will cause them problems.
Susan Meehan is a nurse who works exclusively with pediatric patients in honor of her daughter who suffered from a rare form of severe epilepsy who found relief from using cannabis oil. Meehan works with a laboratory that tests their products for free. She is deeply involved in her patients’ treatments and works with doctors and family members to find the most effective formulation.
Meehan fears that mandatory testing will be so supportive of Maine labs that it will become difficult for individual patients and caregivers to test their cannabis as the labs focus on serving commercial customers.
While advocates of the legislation say Maine has a lot of laboratory capacity, Meehan points to other states like Colorado where the growth of the marijuana market eventually led state regulators to ban it Laboratories of Test private samples. Medical marijuana patients and caregivers who grew their own cannabis could no longer have their drug tested even if they wanted to.
“Patients or parents can take a product to a lab and calm down – that’s a big factor for me,” said Meehan, whose daughter died at the age of 13.
Regulators say they will listen to these concerns as well that the rules should be flexible.
“We have received a lot of feedback on the size of the [proposed] Regulations, ”said Gundersen, the state director of marijuana policy.
But caregivers like Randall Look, known as Mr. Roots in the Maine cannabis world, are still concerned. Look runs a medical cannabis grow company called Alight for Health in the island city of Georgetown. He has specialized in organic outdoor cultivation in-house and has one employee.
Look believes that if the rules took effect, many smaller caregivers would choose to return to the illegal market. In fact, California cites the high cost of compliance as one of many factors that helped the illicit market – what for 80 percent of the state’s cannabis business by some estimates – to thrive.
“The regulations … will certainly add additional costs to smallholders that none of them are prepared for,” he said. “It just makes it so that you then have to find investors.”
Public safety vs. accessibility
Proponents of the proposed rules say the goal is to protect public health and safety and hold the program accountable.
“It’s very mixed,” said Patricia Callahan, a longtime medical marijuana patient who advocates mandatory testing. In more affluent areas, she said caregivers charge more but do more voluntary testing, she said. But in central Maine, where she lives, all she could find was a nurse shop front testing her products.
“It shouldn’t make a difference to me if I go to a pharmacy and assume that everything I buy from the pharmacy is safe,” Callahan said. “I shouldn’t feel any different when I buy drugs in the medical marijuana market.”
States across the country have struggled to ensure that minority communities disproportionately affected by criminal enforcement can reap the financial benefits of legalization. Many create micro-licenses to promote small businesses.
Akers and Dube are prime examples of how market access helped them build the business they have today. Anyone can start with a few hundred dollars for the license fee in a grow tent.
“I tell [other people of color]: Come to Maine. It’s pretty inclusive here, ”said Akers, who is Black. “Maine was the best place. The entry barrier is really low. “
With their law passed, nurses hope the market will stay that way.
“We’re the line in the sand – the first to be drawn in the national battle for cannabis regulation,” said Barnett, the Portland-based nurse. “I hope people in other states will be inspired by what we’ve done.”