The state Office of Marijuana Policy released a set of draft rules and requirements for medical marijuana caregivers this week that officials say is meant to align the program with state law governing recreational marijuana, but that some providers say is a “blatant slap in the face” that will push them out of the market.

Among other changes, the updated rules would require all registered medical marijuana caregivers, dispensaries and manufacturing facilities to use the Office of Marijuana Policy’s inventory tracking system to track all marijuana plants or harvested marijuana from “immature plant” to point of sale, disposal or destruction, according to a draft copy of the changes.

According to David Heidrich, spokesperson for the Office of Marijuana Policy, tracking “helps ensure that both of our regulated programs have a closed loop,” preventing any illicit product from getting into the legal market and any legal product from entering the illicit market.

It would also help regulators collect all taxes levied and allow the industry to track its own growth and tax contributions, resulting in “more accountability and transparency to medical registrants,” he said.

Track and trace could also be used if there were ever an issue with contaminated product that required a recall or administrative hold, he added. Using the tags and labels recorded through the track-and-trace, or seed-to-sale system, products could be traced to a specific plant, and vice versa.

Last spring, the Office of Marijuana Policy signed a six-year, $540,000 deal with Florida-based Metrc LLC to track the growth and distribution of state-licensed marijuana throughout Maine.

State-licensed marijuana businesses pay Metrc LLC a $40 monthly licensing fee to use the company’s cloud-based inventory system, which uses radio frequency identification tags to track the movement of commercial marijuana plants from seedlings to sale. To comply, businesses must also buy Metrc plant tags and packaging labels at 45 cents and 25 cents each, respectively.

The system was first rolled out to the new recreational cannabis market, effectively a blank slate, and now officials plan to introduce it to the medical marijuana program, which has operated without such a system for 20 years.

But according to Dawson Julia, a caregiver in Unity, the market is doing just fine without it.

Medical marijuana sales totaled $221.8 million from January through October, putting the industry on pace to hit $266 million in sales in 2020, making cannabis Maine’s most valuable crop. The state has more than 3,000 registered medical caregivers and eight dispensaries.

“We feel like we should be rewarded,” Julia said, but instead the new regulations are a “blatant slap in the face.”

“What’s going on here, they’re copying and pasting a lot of the worst regulations from the adult-use program and assigning them to the medical program,” he said, calling the system “10 times more complicated and 10 times more intrusive” than any of the current requirements.

The tracking requirements are extensive.

The system requires records of all marijuana plants or harvested marijuana in the possession of the caregiver, the cultivation room where each plant is located, any changes to the inventory, any destruction of marijuana plants or harvested marijuana and the reason for destruction, all sales records, any time inventory is no longer on the premises and test results from testing facilities among others, to be updated daily.

A “limited inventory tracking” designation is available for caregivers cultivating 12 or fewer mature marijuana plants who do not operate a retail store and are not “engaged in wholesale transfers of marijuana to other registrants.” Such “limited inventory” caregivers need only track plants until they are harvested.

The process takes considerable staff time and is expensive, said Mark Barnett, a caregiver and founder of the Maine Craft Cannabis Association. The monthly fee and tag prices aside, the system would require an internet connection and other equipment that many small caregivers won’t have, causing a necessary increase in prices for businesses to survive.

Barnett worries the draft rules, which he called “unfair, burdensome business regulation,” are an attempt to “push people out of the medical program and into the adult-use market.”

Maine’s recreational market totaled $1.4 million in sales in October, its first month of operation. In contrast, the state’s medical marijuana sales in October totaled $22 million.

Other changes outlined in the draft include a standardized application process for caregivers, dispensaries and manufacturing facilities, a process to obtain a registration certificate for retail stores, clarification of the municipal approval and authorization requirements, and more substantive requirements around packaging and labeling.

The Office of Marijuana Policy is accepting informal public comment on the preliminary changes until Sunday. From there, the draft will transition into a proposed rule, starting an official public comment and hearing phase.


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