A bill overhauling the state’s medical marijuana rule-making process has become law, giving providers, patients and other professionals a say in the rules governing their industry.

L.D. 1242, a response to a controversial set of proposed rules by the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy, requires the office to consult medical marijuana providers and consumers, as well as physicians and other medical professionals with experience in the industry, before making major rule changes. 

The law changes the designation of future rule changes from “routine technical” to “major substantive,” triggering a requirement for legislative input and a more robust public process.

The Office of Marijuana Policy is now also required to develop a process for hiring consultants to advise on any new rules or proposed changes to the program regulating the state’s No. 1 cash crop. 

Industry participants celebrated the new law Thursday, calling the legislation a means for the state to lead the way in marijuana business formation, innovation and customer satisfaction.

Mark Barnett, founder and chair of the Maine Craft Cannabis Association, said in a statement that the legislation “ensures policymakers hear and respond to the needs of all stakeholders in this state.”

“It is vital to the long-term survival of this industry to reject the overregulated industrial model that has forced small business out of nearly all other state cannabis programs,” Barnett said.

Rep. Lynne Williams, D-Bar Harbor, the bill’s cosponsor, said the law only brings the program’s rule-making in line with how other agencies are regulated.

“This program is of profound importance to tens of thousands of patients, thousands of businesses and their employees and the state as a whole, so it is imperative that the Office of Marijuana Policy is required to bring major rules changes to the legislature – just like other agencies must do,” she said.

In January, the Office of Marijuana Policy released a preliminary draft of rule changes to the medical program that officials said were “meant to align the program with state law.”

Among other proposed changes, the proposed rules would require all registered medical cannabis caregivers, dispensaries and manufacturing facilities to implement a “seed-to-sale” or “track-and-trace” system, currently used in the state’s adult-use program.

That would require providers to track all marijuana plants or harvested marijuana daily from “immature plant” to point of sale or disposal. That would create a record in case of contamination or illness and also help keep illicit product out of the legal market, and vice versa. 

The proposed rule also would require strict security measures, including 24-hour camera surveillance and an alarm system. Surveillance data would be required to be stored for 30 days.

For months, medical marijuana providers, known in the industry as caregivers, have been sounding the alarm bells, worried that the requirements, security systems, alarms, track-and-trace and other new rules would be too expensive for them to survive.

But opponents of the bill believe that the state’s medical marijuana sellers no longer represent a cottage industry and should be subject to more regulations and stronger safeguards for customers trying to access their products. 

The legislation doesn’t prohibit any changes from moving forward, though. It only guarantees industry voices a seat at the table when those rules are written.

Rep. Patrick Corey, R-Windham, said in a statement that without the proper care and thought into the rules, “we could lose our medical cannabis program and even expand the unregulated market.”

“Given that this regulation has the potential to negatively affect so many Mainers, wouldn’t we want to make sure the proposed rules work?” he said.

The new law also requires that, before implementing a statewide electronic portal for caregiver businesses, the department use existing resources to study the economic effects that any new rules or changes may have and how they may impact patient access to medical marijuana.

The state’s medical marijuana program, which has more than 3,000 registered caregivers and eight dispensaries, garnered roughly $266 million in sales last year, making cannabis Maine’s most valuable crop.


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