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Politics

Bill to allow marijuana delivery in Maine sparks debate in Legislature

Marijuana Delivery Service
Elise Amendola
/
AP
Delivery driver Frantz Cantave, left, gives a receipt as he delivers an order of recreational marijuana to Hilary Marcotte outside her home, Friday, July 16, 2021, in Boston. At least two companies announced this week they've launched operations to deliver marijuana in Massachusetts. Lantern, a sister company of the popular alcohol delivery service Drizly, says it's now serving the Boston area. Your Green Package, meanwhile, says its driver teams have hit the road in the greater Northampton area in the western end of the state.

A proposal to allow door-to-door delivery of recreational marijuana in Maine is sparking debate in the Legislature. While supporters say it is a logical expansion of a growing industry in Maine, municipal and public health officials are urging caution.

It’s been more than 16 months since recreational marijuana became legal to buy in Maine. But you won’t find a “pot shop” in roughly 90% of the towns and cities across Maine because voters or local leaders have yet to embrace the cannabis industry.

So segments of that industry want to bring marijuana directly to buyers — legally, that is.

“The fact of the matter is cannabis delivery has been happening for as long as cannabis and cars have been around,” said Alex McMahan, a Lewiston resident who operates both a recreational marijuana store as well as a medical marijuana company.

Like many other medical marijuana providers in Maine, McMahan is legally allowed to deliver the drug to his clients. But state law prohibits delivery of cannabis products intended for adult, recreational use. So he is among several marijuana entrepreneurs to back a bill that would allow delivery to adults throughout Maine, regardless of whether their town allows retail sales.

"Allowing adult use delivery gives Maine's small business who are pioneers in the cannabis industry the tools that they need to outcompete illicit market delivery services, thereby raising the bar on safety and reducing the presence of unregulated cannabis products,” McMahan told members of the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

Retail pot delivery is not a new concept in Maine or nationally. At least six states already allow it while about a dozen, including Maine, allow delivery of medical cannabis.

But some municipalities in Maine are opposed to expanding delivery services, and the Maine Municipal Association testified against the bill, LD 1827, during Wednesday’s public hearing.

"This presents a process for eroding local control,” said the association’s Kate Dufour. “First we start with deliver. What's next? Is it requiring municipalities to allow stores in their downtown or cultivation operations in their agricultural zone?"

Dufour pointed out that under existing law, towns that want to allow recreational retail shops within their borders can "opt in." But those that do not opt-in cannot be forced to host marijuana businesses.

Meanwhile, bill supporters like South Portland marijuana cultivator Matthew Bayliss said can only prohibit so-called bricks-and-mortar operations.

"You guys opted out of standing up a program to license operators,” Bayliss said. “You didn't opt in our opt out of allowing cannabis into your town."

But health advocates are raising concerns that home delivery could allow marijuana to end up in the hands or bodies of children.

Victoria Frankl, a registered nurse who helps field emergency calls at the Northern New England Poison Center, said there has been an eight-fold increase in calls for unintentional marijuana poisoning among children since 2012. Over the past five years, the poison control center has fielded 118 calls about marijuana poisonings involving children age five or younger.

"About 45% of those exposures caused serious symptoms and, in some cases, required hospital admission,” Frankl said. “With that said, we are concerned that the legislation before you today, as drafted, has the potential to increase that number."

Frankl was technically testifying neither for nor against the bill. Instead, she is urging the Legislature to require delivery drivers to verify the age of whoever is receiving the cannabis and that the products be encased in child-resistant packaging.

The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee has not yet scheduled a work session on the bill.