Cannabis Policy Conference in Maine: Legalization Will Produce Winners and Losers, but Likely to Pass

Less important than the passage, or failure-to-pass, of question one on November 8, 2016 is the necessity for small businesses in Maine to “pivot,” as declared by Shea Gunther of Marijuana Today Daily Podcast.  Gunther, a founder of SSDP, paneled during the Cannabis Poilicy Conference on October 24th at the Port City Music Hall in Portland. Thank you McCabe Law LLC. For the small business person in the medical marijuana industry, building Resilience in the face of an onslaught of incoming capital must necessarily include legislative lobbying as well as relationship-building at the municipal level. Competition will be tough – not every current MMJ Caregiver will have access to the adult-use money.

Mr Gunther’s point, it might seem, is that the social justice and medical-research benefits of having legal cannabis – ending prohibition – are critical for societal progress.

Information session at necann 2016 Maine

The MMJ industry in Maine, dating back to 1999, has developed to the point where, as Dr. Dustin Sulak described, patients have access to medicine and contribute to the local economy with a Caregiver business. He described patients who, immediately after becoming certified to use cannabis for medical purposes, starting buying cannabis from a caregiver. He described how, in some cases, the same patient would come back 6 months later having learned how to grow cannabis themselves. And at times the same patient would return for the first re-certification appointment as a certified caregiver: growing medicine and keeping more money local. This anecdote meshes well with the statistics: there are over 3,000 caregivers in the state right now, a number far larger than a year prior.

The adult-use bill declares that the MMJ program is to remain intact and regulated by DHHS while adult-use will be regulated by the Department of Agriculture. However, many feel that due to the high cost of regulation and the low fees laid out in the bill for adult-use, the state will seek to cut costs. Many suspect Maine will retire MMJ regulatory funding and turn the task over to the newly appointed agency for regulating adult-use. Dr. Dustin Sulak, at some point, mentioned that cannabis should not be regulated like alcohol. He feels, as did many in the crowd judging by applause, that cannabis should be regulated like camomile.

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Hillary Lister, a tireless advocate for the “free” caregiver market, feels the adult use bill is inadequate when it comes to protecting and supporting small Maine businesses. The proposed, but adjustable, first year cannabis canopy limit (rather than a limit based on number of plants) for the adult use market is 800,000 square feet. This is to be split 60% to large growers and 40% to small growers. That translates to a minimum number of 16 “Large” licenses and a minimum of 107 “Small” licenses to grow cannabis for the adult-use market. And of course the “Grow Your Own” component of the legislation that allows any 21+ year old person to grow up to 6 plants which, some suggest, renders the 800,000 canopy limit meaningless.

Yes on 1 in Maine Cannabis

Lynn Williams, a Bar Harbor Lawyer and chief architect of the proposed Adult Use legislation suggests that components of the legislation can be adjusted legislatively after passage. She pointed out at least two areas that will have to be adjusted to make the language more clear and closer to the original intent of the bill.

She did not address the critique levied by some caregivers that once entrenched in the state, those with deep pockets will utilize the courts to expand their ability to grow, gain power in the state, and even lobby their way towards consolidation and monopolistic control. Dr Sulak pointed to the out of state group who helped architect the 2009 bill and went on to hold 4 dispensary licenses in a state that only permits eight. Inferring perhaps that vested business interests guide adult-use law.

Caregiver Services in Maine

On Saturday in Portland the New England Cannabis Convention gave convention goers a taste of what adult-use would bring to the state. There were out of state brands and local businesses, all interested in promoting ideas, staking territory, and generating name recognition should adult use pass in November. A talented group, those hoping to start or grow cannabis business, are excited for the prospect of rewarding, passionate work. Also notable were the many services that cater to the caregiver industry suggesting that cannabis grows of all sizes are here to stay.

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