Small-scale medical marijuana growers around the state are forming a trade group to help shape future policies and protect their rights.

A formal announcement of the new group will be made at a news conference Thursday in Augusta, according to an e-mail notice from Jonathan Leavitt of the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine.

Maine has an unknown number of medical marijuana caregivers who have been allowed to grow and sell marijuana to eligible patients – a maximum of five patients per caregiver – under the state’s decade-old medical marijuana law. A new law opening the door to Maine’s first storefront medical marijuana dispensaries allows caregivers to continue serving patients as long as they register with the state by Jan. 1.

“Caregivers provide an essential service for people throughout Maine who get relief from severe pain and suffering through medical marijuana. Patients get to have a personal relationship with the people who grow their medicine, and the lack of administrative overhead means they can get their marijuana at a better price,” Leavitt said in today’s e-mail.

“Caregivers are able to make a decent living while helping people in need. Since spring, medical marijuana caregiver networks have generated some 500 good jobs throughout Maine. Medical marijuana Caregivers of Maine is here to make sure caregivers have a place at the table when policy decisions are made.”