When Maine solicited advice on how to set up its new recreational cannabis market, about a dozen groups from all over the country, from national marijuana consulting firms to the manager of a small Maine town, chimed in: Ban marijuana social clubs, despite the voters’ will. Discourage “drug warrior” cops. Tax marijuana enough to discourage youth use, but keep it competitive with street prices

Responses released recently show opinions that varied widely, from those who want to encourage this new industry to those who would rather undo the results of the November referendum that legalized recreational cannabis use. Some want to make sure the state can capitalize on the benefits of adult-use cannabis, like decreased opioid use, while others sought to avoid other states’ mistakes on the road to legalization.

“Developing and implementing voter-mandated marijuana policy is a high-profile venture for any government,” wrote Andrew Freedman, who was Colorado’s first director of marijuana coordination before forming Freedman & Koski, one of the national consulting firms that responded to Maine’s request for best-practice information. “This policy arena remains very divisive and full of uncertainty.”

The state released a draft of its omnibus rules intended to regulate Maine’s nascent marijuana industry on Sept. 11. Hearings on the rules are scheduled for later this month and legislators will reconvene in October to vote on the final version of an omnibus bill.

But before the draft was released, the state sought input on best practices – ideas that it could draw from as it crafts the regulations overseeing the legal, recreational marijuana industry.

During legislative testimony in Augusta in July, Freedman shared some of the lessons he has learned in Colorado. For example, he talked of regulatory missteps, like lax home-grow rules that he believed led to black market diversion, which he urged Maine to avoid.

But Freedman & Koski didn’t offer a lot of specific counsel in its written response for best practices, instead laying out how other states handle various areas of cannabis regulation, ranging from impaired driving enforcement to product safety and potency testing to licensing, and how it would decide which of these different approaches was best for Maine if it was paid to do so.

It offered a few hints, however. It warned against the unreliability of a marijuana sales tax. In many legalized states, the price of marijuana falls as more companies start to legally cultivate it. As price fluctuates, a sales tax becomes an unreliable source of revenue for a state, unlike taxes based on weight or on quantity. Maine voters approved a 10 percent sales tax, but in the omnibus draft, officials suggest a 20 percent tax.

Freedman & Koski also calls for integrating medical and adult-use marijuana and harmonizing the regulations governing these two consumer groups to prevent large grows outside of a closed-loop, seed-to-sale regulatory system. However, it also calls for finding ways for the medical growers to merge into the licensed system to avoid alienating a “fairly strong” patient and caregiver community.

In the omnibus draft, medical marijuana dispensaries are allowed to sell recreational pot, but not from the same counter. State-certified caregivers also could apply for a recreational retail-sales license, as long as they don’t sell their adult-use products at the same counter or point of sale as their medicine.

CANNABIS CONNECTIONS

BOTEC Analysis, the Los Angeles-based marijuana consulting firm that helped Washington state launch its adult-use market, urged Maine to study how the availability of legal marijuana could reduce opioid use, overdoses and death. It noted that pain management groups have found replacing prescription opioids with marijuana can cut opioid consumption in half.

“Full adult recreational availability of marijuana may provide a safety valve for problem opioid users,” said BOTEC CEO Brad Rowe.

In a state like Maine, where opioids such as prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl claimed 313 lives last year, that is the kind of silver lining that can grab the attention of policy makers, including the two regulatory agencies that will oversee the new cannabis market – agriculture and financial services.

Rowe also urged Maine to evaluate how an increased availability of cannabis might affect alcohol or tobacco use. Studies have found that young people with greater access to cannabis consume more alcohol, which may increase impaired driving and deaths from alcohol overdoses, but Rowe noted that older adults seem to be replacing some of their alcohol use with marijuana.

Rowe advised Maine to follow Washington’s lead in marijuana packaging, labeling and potency regulations, which requires preapproval of all products, packages and labels before retail sale. Maine should adopt a universal symbol for THC-infused products, he said. He notes that most legalized states limit serving sizes to 10 milligrams of THC, the psychoactive agent in marijuana that makes people feel high.

He also suggests a ban on products that appeal to youth or are difficult to dose, like granola or drinkables. The omnibus draft leaves the regulation of cultivation, manufacturing, testing, packaging and labeling to the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

Some respondents echoed familiar legislative testimony. The Marijuana Policy Project wants to keep Maine taxes competitive with other states and protect voter-approved home grow and social club rules. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and Opportunity Alliance of South Portland join a chorus of health groups that want to use marijuana taxes, which the Maine CDC called a “fantastic revenue builder,” to fund prevention services. The omnibus draft calls for 12 percent of marijuana taxes to go to public health and safety programs, and smaller amounts to municipalities that host marijuana operations.

Access Health, a community health coalition out of Brunswick, urged the state to adopt marijuana regulatory actions that have been shown to be successful in curbing the negative consequences of tobacco and alcohol, like increasing prices and adopting minimum price requirements, which help prevent youth access and therefore reduce drugged driving and addiction.

The new incarnation of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which was one of the lead opponents to last fall’s legalization referendum, replied to the state’s information request under its new name, Mainers Protecting Our Youth and Communities. The group called for training more drug recognition experts, setting an impairment threshold to reduce impaired driving, and stiff penalties for those caught selling to minors.

The only municipal leader to respond, Town Manager Mark Robinson of Fayette, wanted the state to give municipalities the right to enforce the new cannabis laws within their borders, if the towns want it, with state inspectors monitoring their performance to make sure the municipal powers are doing it right. But Robinson’s biggest concern is high THC cannabis products.

Robinson warned that today’s marijuana is not “your dad’s weed,” and has called for the prohibition of cannabis products with THC that is high in concentration as well as potency.

Penelope Overton can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

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