It’s hard to know for certain how Maine’s marijuana market will shake out once recreational sales begin in June. But the state of the medical cannabis industry can tell us quite a bit.

The state for the first time last month put the industry in financial context. Now that it has its own tax category, we know Mainers in just 11 months last year spent $111.6 million on legal medical marijuana, about double what analysts had estimated.

Putting the news in words that most Mainers can understand, Press Herald Staff Writer Penelope Overton wrote Feb. 24 that the medical marijuana industry is not as big as lobsters or potatoes, but it does take in more revenue than “blueberries, maple syrup, apples, elvers, herring and oysters – combined.”

The sheer size of Maine’s medical marijuana industry confirms just how huge the marijuana black market was, and likely remains.

The numbers also show that Mainers will obtain cannabis through legal avenues if given the opportunity.

The state’s 2,600 caregivers are the ones who generated the bulk of the revenue – $85.3 million, as opposed to $26.3 million from the eight licensed dispensaries.

Recent changes in the industry have helped. Caregivers were allowed to expand their businesses and serve more patients, and it became easier and less costly to become a patient.

At the same time, the state was dragging its feet on implementing the recreational market. More than three years after legal adult-use marijuana passed at the polls, recreational cannabis is still not available, and many people no doubt turned to the medical market instead of waiting.

Now, the first recreational shops are set to open in June. In anticipation, the state Office of Marijuana Policy said it wants to “harmonize” the medical and recreational programs, placing them under the same rules whenever possible.

That would end what has been a looser regulatory approach in the medical market, and it would likely wreak havoc with some of the industry’s best features. The cost and time of a track-and-trace system, for instance, would place a heavy burden on mom-and-pop operations, as would hefty fines proposed for even minor issues. Increased regulations would only force law enforcement to spend resources on businesses causing no harm.

The hands-off approach to the medical market is working, and legislators, who have final say, should not cast it off.

During the delay in establishing the recreational market, the medical industry brought thousands of people out of the black market, and generated millions of dollars in tax revenue. Mom-and-pop operations are now flourishing and adding jobs.

Now with recreational retail stores about to open, regulators want to fundamentally change how the medical market operates. They would risk driving away small businesses, and pushing some providers and customers back to the black market.

Lawmakers should resist changes to the medical program. The new recreational market comes with a lot of questions, some that won’t be answered for some time. But we know the medical program is working, and there is no reason to upset that now.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.