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Politics

Maine Medical Marijuana Growers Divided On Legislation That Would Pause New Rules

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Robert F. Bukaty
/
Associated Press

State marijuana regulators have proposed a sweeping set of changes for the 3,000 licensed caregivers who grow and sell medical pot.

Under the rules, growers would have to run 24-7 security cameras at some of their facilities, and apply tags to their plants so they can be electronically tracked across the supply chain, among many other changes.

But the proposed rules have been unpopular with many small medical marijuana businesses, and a pair of bills now before the Legislature would effectively block them: L.D. 1242 and L.D. 1319. On Friday, the veterans and legal affairs committee heard a full day of testimony from people on both sides of the issue.

Some lawmakers spoke in favor of the bills. They argued that that growers should have more of a say in the rules governing their industry and that the Legislature would be a better place to consider changes of that magnitude.

Senator Ned Claxton, a retired family doctor from Androscoggin County, co-sponsored one of the bills. He said that the medical program has been a boon for Maine and that it hasn’t brought any reports of substantial harm.

“In health and human services last session, we heard from one patient who had a bad reaction to a batch she had purchased. Her solution: find another provider. That’s how this cottage industry should work, based on personal relationships with providers and trusting that market forces will direct users to better products and better providers,” he said.

But at least two lawmakers and a representative for the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy spoke against the bills on Friday. They say that the proposed new rules are called for under a 2019 law that allowed the state's medical industry to grow, and that growers have already had opportunities to comment on the new rules.

“As a result of those changes, the existing program rule is woefully out of date and does not reflect the policy decisions negotiated by the Legislature and the stakeholders you see before you today,” says Anya Trundy, director of legislative affairs at the parent agency of the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy.

Since the last update to Maine’s medical marijuana rules, the industry has grown to the most lucrative cash crop in the state, bringing in more than $220 million in sales in 2020.

Some medical marijuana businesses and patients are also defending the controversial rules. They say that allowing their products to be electronically tracked would ensure they're operating safely.

"A regulated market is necessary in Maine, if but for the sole purpose of reducing youth use,” Alex McMahan, a founding partner of MEDco, a cannabis store in Lewiston.

The proposed bills must now go through a work session in the veterans and legal affairs committee.