September 30, 2013

Growing pot becomes Maine cottage industry

The state now has hundreds of small, legal businesses that grow medical marijuana -- separate from dispensaries -- and a new law may add to demand for them.

By Joe Lawlor jlawlor@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

Today's poll: Medical marijuana

Is Maine doing enough to regulate medical marijuana?

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20130917_Providers
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A York County caregiver named Frank displays buds from plants grown for use as medical marijuana. Caregivers also make brownies, chocolates and other pot products for patients.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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Paul McCarrier of the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine says his industry has created hundreds of jobs.

Kennebec Journal File Photo

Additional Photos Below

McCarrier's days consist of managing finances, tending to plants and keeping track of his patients' needs. He has served people with hepatitis and chronic pain.

"It's a full-time job. You can expect to work at least 30 hours per week, and much more during the spring and fall, during planting and harvesting seasons," McCarrier said.

He said he took out a $10,000 loan three years ago to purchase equipment and cover other start-up costs, forgoing a potential career in social work. He wouldn't divulge how much he personally earns, but said so far it has not been as lucrative as he had hoped.

"I'm getting by, but I don't have another $10,000 to invest," McCarrier said.

Nonetheless, many are jumping into the field. McCarrier said the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine trade group hosts frequent "how-to" classes for potential caregivers, and the classes almost always fill up.

That interest could grow on Tuesday, when post-traumatic stress disorder and irritable bowel syndrome are added to the list of conditions for which doctors are permitted to prescribe medical marijuana.

The list already includes cancer, AIDS, Crohn's disease and other disorders. Those in the medical marijuana field say the latest changes to the law should be a boon to the industry.

"PTSD is going to be a huge addition for medical marijuana in Maine," said Brad Feuer, CEO of Integr8 Health, a Falmouth doctor's office that caters to those seeking marijuana as treatment for chronic conditions.

Becky DeKeuster, executive clinical director of the Wellness Connection of Maine, which owns four of the eight medical marijuana dispensaries in the state, agreed. She said PTSD should increase overall demand for dispensaries as well as caregivers.

DeKeuster also said she does not consider the caregivers a threat to the dispensaries.

"Our numbers are robust and growing," she said. "We feel like it's good for the patients of Maine that they have many options. They can go to a dispensary, a caregiver or grow their own. We find ourselves on the same side as the caregivers on many issues."

RISKS, OBSTACLES FOR CAREGIVERS

Although in some ways the industry looks promising, caregivers face obstacles not encountered by, say, the average ice cream shop or antiques store.

Many of the business practices, while legal in Maine, are illegal under federal laws, which ban the use, cultivation and distribution of marijuana. Buying seeds, for example, is illegal.

"We call it original sin," said McCarrier, noting that although growing marijuana for medical purposes is legal in Maine, state officials did not carve out any pathways to purchase the seeds. That leaves the caregiver shouldering the legal risks.

Michele, the York County caregiver, said her credit card company flagged the purchase of marijuana seeds, but she and her partner, Frank, were able to figure out a way to acquire them.

Frank, who has a business background, said that because marijuana is illegal federally, and financial institutions cross state lines, business transactions have to be done on a cash basis. Banks could be exposing themselves to money-laundering charges if they knowingly allow an account to include revenue from the sale of medical marijuana, he said.

So far, they have been using their personal bank accounts to deposit revenue earned from the business, which is not a sound accounting practice, Frank said. He said they may try to open a company account anyway by masking their true business when applying for the account.

Unlike other small businesses, they can't deduct grow equipment as a business expense on federal taxes. And when filing taxes, they don't dare list their profession as "medical marijuana caregiver," but instead list their profession as "agriculture," Frank said.

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Additional Photos

20130917_Providers
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Frank and Michele show how their business of providing marijuana and byproducts to their legally approved patients works. Here, Michele mixes powdered cannabis with fine chocolate to make chocolate candies.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

  


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Today's poll: Medical marijuana

Is Maine doing enough to regulate medical marijuana?

Yes

No

View Results