We strongly believe that the medical program in Maine is one of the best (if not #1) in the country. We also believe there is no reason to alter the program as it is working well already.
Please read our OpEd below outlining our thoughts on the matter…
Mainer’s Benefit Most from Medical Cannabis – Time to Leave it Alone
As recently reported in this paper, marijuana is now Maine’s most valuable cash crop. But to be clear – the vast majority of the industry is from Maine’s decades old Medical Marijuana Program (MMMP), rather than from the fledgling adult-use or “recreational” industry . And since there continue to be pushes from the top to “align” the two programs by making the medical more like adult-use – that’s a very important distinction to make.
We got involved in Maine’s medical marijuana industry to support patients and caregivers, by protecting privacy and access, but we always knew cannabis is an economic driver. But we didn’t know how much horsepower it had until now, nor how important it would become as an essential business providing jobs, taxes and healthcare during a pandemic.
So let’s say it again – Maine medical cannabis industry is now the state’s largest cash crop, with the industry on track to record $266 million in sales for 2020. That’s more than potatoes at $184 million and more than milk, at $124 million.
And unlike potatoes, milk or blueberries, our medical marijuana program is a uniquely statewide industry. It’s vibrant in rural and less rural communities, and from the top of CD1 to the tip of CD2. It provides jobs directly to over 7,000 Mainers and supports thousands of others through ancillary jobs like contractors, accountants, electricians, attorneys and more (all during an extended state of emergency that has devastated or destroyed so many Maine businesses and put thousands out of work).
Despite persisting negative stereotypes of the people who work in the marijuana industry, the level of voluntary compliance with laws and regulations (including tax and fee payments) by Maine’s registered medical providers is stellar, contributing $12 million to the state in the form of sales taxes alone.
Importantly, the value of jobs and taxes is in addition to satisfying the most important purpose of Maine’s Medical Marijuana Program – to safely and affordably provide access to high quality medicine for patients suffering from a variety of mental and physical illnesses and conditions. And on that front the MMMP is also a success. Medical cannabis gives patients – working with their doctors and caregivers – an alternative treatment for a range of medical conditions, and improves the lives of nearly 65,000 Mainers.
Because customers are patients – many suffering from chronic or serious health issues – medical cannabis caregivers are used to operating with public health and safety in mind. It’s notable that in the over 20 years since caregivers began providing medical cannabis to patients, we know of no significant public health or public safety violations or any serious, negative health, environmental or community safety outcome.
And when the coronavirus crisis intensified, caregivers stepped up and modified their businesses practices (at significant cost) to protect employees, abide by state CDC guidelines, and continue to ensure safe, continued access for patients who rely on them.
These are just some of the reasons Maine’s medical marijuana program is known throughout the country as a model for privacy, access, quality and variety. But getting the program to this point hasn’t been without challenges.
Over the past decade, patients and their loved ones, caregivers, advocates and healthcare professionals joined together with a passionate group of bipartisan legislators to improve the law. To date, we’ve eliminated the list of state-approved qualifying conditions, removed the arbitrary 5-patient cap on caregivers, allowed reciprocity for out of state patients and reduced patient barriers. Just last year, we successfully stopped a proposal to require commercial grade extraction labs that would have shuttered most small producers of infused edibles, tinctures and salves. The result is a uniquely Maine program that allows patients to select their local provider and obtain the most appropriate strain and form of cannabis to address their concern.
The legal medical cannabis system has empowered medical providers and patients and has created a positive impact for Maine’s economy. Health providers, caregivers, producers and patients are complying with the law and the system is working.
Yet with new rules being developed by the Governor’s Office of Marijuana Policy (OMP), and the next legislative session upon us, we fear that we are going to have to – yet again – fight to prevent the imposition of new processes and regulations that would undermine the program’s success, harming patients and this long standing industry in the process.
The imposition of mandatory product testing of this agricultural product is an example of such a change. It may make regulators feel useful, but there’s no data to conclude this costly and burdensome process leads to increased health outcomes for patients nor that it provides reliable information about adulterants, potency or quality. Further, Maine medical cannabis providers already record and report sales to the state, and the sheer amount of declared, taxed sales (way above what the state predicted) demonstrates compliance. So why impose METRC or another costly, proprietary “track and trace” service? All it will do is increase medication costs for patients at a time when they can least afford it, pushing them back underground – causing loss of sales tax, layoffs and more.
The pandemic alone is creating sufficient challenges for these Maine businesses. For the good of the state and the people who use medical cannabis, the Office of Marijuana Policy should end any effort to erect barriers to a successful program that’s providing relief – both to patients and to the state’s strained finances.
If we want them to continue to drive Maine’s economy, we need to keep the course. As Mainer’s always say, if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it.