June 14, 2013

Maine bill would lift pesticide ban for marijuana plants

The measure will take effect as soon as it is signed by Gov. LePage, whose administration supports it.

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Medical marijuana dispensaries in Maine will be allowed to treat plants with certain low-risk pesticides if a bill enacted Friday by the Legislature becomes law.

click image to enlarge

Maine lawmakers have approved the use of low-risk pesticides on medical marijuana.

Joe Phelan / Kennebec Journal

L.D. 1531, an emergency measure sponsored by Sen. Thomas Saviello, R-Wilton, a former chairman of the Maine Board of Pesticides Control, passed in the House without a roll-call vote Friday. The Senate passed it Thursday.

The measure would take effect as soon as it is signed by Gov. Paul LePage, whose administration supports the bill.

The bill would amend Department of Health and Human Services rules that prohibit the use of any pesticide on marijuana plants -- even a natural substance such as vegetable oil.

"Having anything in your arsenal is better than having nothing," said Glenn Peterson, who owns Canuvo, a dispensary in Biddeford. "It's a good thing."

The DHHS supports the bill, which was prompted by the department's investigation in March of Wellness Connection of Maine, the nonprofit operator of four of Maine's eight dispensaries, in Portland, Hallowell, Thomaston and Brewer.

Investigators found 20 violations of state law and program rules, from pesticide use to security breaches to a managerial conflict of interest.

The state said nine types of pesticides were used at Wellness Connection's cultivation site in Auburn, violating medical-marijuana program rules prohibiting pesticides.

However, Kenneth Albert, director of the DHHS's Division of Licensing and Regulatory Services, which oversees the program, allowed marijuana treated with pesticides to be sold because the pesticides were substances that anyone can apply to virtually any plant.

The Portland Press Herald, after requesting an analysis from the Maine Board of Pesticides Control, reported that five of the nine pesticides the group was cited for using contain active ingredients that are safe for many uses and federally approved for use on tobacco.

On Friday, Albert said the DHHS supports the bill because it would help patients to access marijuana from state-regulated dispensaries.

"That particular crop is challenging to grow without pesticides," he said.

Substances allowed under the bill would be determined, in part, by a list of more than 30 active ingredients that are exempt from federal regulation because they are deemed virtually harmless, including sesame oil, soybean oil and peppermint oil.

Albert said that, under the bill, each pesticide also would have to be registered for use in Maine, and its label would have to indicate that it can be used on all plants. If the substance were to be used on marijuana plants that would be turned into edible products, it would face more scrutiny, he said.

Paul McCarrier, a lobbyist for Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, a frequent critic of Wellness Connection, called the bill the dispensaries' "flagship piece of legislation" this session.

His group, which represents small-scale medical-marijuana growers, didn't take a position on the bill.

He said that while most small-time growers don't use pesticides on plants, dispensaries need a way to treat plants so that pests such as spider mites don't infest large growing areas.

Wellness Connection served about 2,400 patients in March, according to state figures.

"I don't think it's very controversial," McCarrier said of the bill.

Michael Shepherd can be reached at 370-7652 or at:

mshepherd@mainetoday.com

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

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