AUGUSTA – Maine medical marijuana caregivers are forming a trade association to organize growers and lobby for legislation.

The group represents one of the few robust sectors of the state’s economy, said Jonathan Leavitt, chairman of the group’s board of directors.

“We deserve a voice at the table when decisions are being made that impact our work,” he said Tuesday at a State House news conference.

But its members say it also will advocate for patients and help ensure lower prices for the drug.

“We’re also here to guarantee that patients get the best prices, and that’s going to be done by forming real, solid relationships with caregivers and helping them network to lower their prices,” Leavitt said.

The announcement came a year after Maine voters expanded a decade-old medical marijuana law.

The law set the stage for a formal system for obtaining the drug and authorized one dispensary for each of the state’s eight regional public health districts.

The association has nearly 100 members paying dues of $30 a month.

It has a staff person working in an office above the State Theater on Congress Street in Portland and plans to hire two field organizers, Leavitt said.

The group’s legislative priorities, he said, include eliminating a state rule that requires medical marijuana users to register.

Also, the group wants to increase the amount of marijuana that users can posses. The current limit, 2.5 ounces, is not practical, Leavitt said.

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.

The expanded law allows caregivers to continue serving patients as long as they register with the state by Jan. 1.

The state Health and Human Services Department said there are now 102 registered patients and about 100 more applicants.

But officials are anticipating 800 more later this year as dispensaries gear up for services.

The association provides caregivers with a network for exchanges of supplies of marijuana, which Leavitt said can help them to offer marijuana to patients for significantly less than the $350 to $400 per ounce he says some dispensaries charge.

Leo Trudel, executive director of Safe Alternatives, a dispensary in Frenchville, said his business charges $250 an ounce, although he acknowledged that the price is not cheap due to quality assurance costs and the laws of supply and demand.

“Growing marijuana for medical use is not like growing tomatoes in your backyard,” Trudel said.

But caregivers see themselves as alternatives to dispensaries for patients, not competitors.

“Would I tell a patient not to use a dispensary? Absolutely not,” said Fred Kessler, a patient who suffers from Chron’s disease and is on the board of the caregivers’ association.

Kessler, who applied unsuccessfully to operate a dispensary in western Maine, sees a role for the caregivers association in establishing standards for the drug and self-policing in addition to working with state policymakers.