A newly formed advocacy group is urging state officials to change Maine’s medical marijuana rules by adding product testing and tracking requirements that it says are crucial for public safety, but that industry members say could put them out of business.

The advocacy group, called Protect Maine’s Cannabis Consumers, held a virtual news conference Friday. The group said it will work to raise public awareness about the Maine medical marijuana industry’s lack of regulations and urge the Legislature to mandate both product testing and so-called track-and-trace requirements, closing what it says is a “dangerous loophole.”

Both tracking and testing are required in the state’s year-old adult-use cannabis market but are not required in the long-running medical marijuana program.

Members of the new advocacy group say many medical marijuana patients, as well as the general public, are unaware of the difference in regulations between the two cannabis markets and may be unwittingly exposing themselves to dangerous products.

Maine’s medical marijuana program is the only legal cannabis market in the nation that does not mandate such measures, according to the advocacy group.

Its goal is not to drive up costs or overcomplicate the system but rather to improve patient safety and access, said its president, Kevin Kelley, at the news conference.


That products being used as medicine do not have to be tested, while those for recreational use do, “defies common sense,” Kelley said.

The state’s medical marijuana program consists of 13 dispensaries, roughly 3,000 independent providers known as caregivers, and more than 100,000 qualifying patients. In 2020, medical marijuana sales totaled roughly $290 million, according to a recent report from the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy.

The medical marijuana industry has pushed back against testing and tracking requirements for over a year, expressing concerns about the cost, both to the providers and their customers.

A marijuana policy office proposal last year would have added a track-and-trace mandate to the program, but industry members fought off its inclusion and lobbied the Legislature, which halted the rule and then overhauled the rulemaking process to give the industry more input. The policy office tried again this year to impose similar rules, and the industry again pushed back.

Caregivers and patients opposed to the proposal argued that the policy office had included track-and-trace without naming it as such, while also sneaking in a hidden product testing requirement.

The office announced earlier this month that it was abandoning its rulemaking effort and going back to the drawing board.


The advocacy group argues that the industry’s predictions about what the requirements would do to prices are exaggerated, Kelley said, adding that the adult-use market has the same requirement and is doing just fine.

Talk of price increases is “not putting the focus on where the focus should be – on public safety and protecting patients,” he said.

The lack of tracking and testing mandates does not mean all products in the medical marijuana market are dangerous. In fact, many operators voluntarily have their products tested and follow their own track-and-trace type of system.

However, the lack of awareness or clarity around which providers do or do not track and test carries risks, said Patricia Callahan, a medical cannabis patient and member of the state’s medical marijuana workgroup.

Vulnerable populations such as children and seniors rely on medical cannabis, Callahan said during the news conference, but it’s a “buyer-beware market.”

“In this untested marketplace, all patients are vulnerable,” she said.


Data on medical marijuana-related illnesses are inconclusive, according to Callahan.

Often, someone having a negative reaction to a product will know what caused it and choose not go to the doctor, she said. Other times, they may see a provider without knowing exactly what is causing a symptom, and it is unclear whether the marijuana is the actual cause.

Track-and-trace systems are used by regulators to help prevent illicit products from entering the legal market, and legal products from entering the black market. The usually electronic systems also can be used to aid in the recall of contaminated products.

Not having such a system in place “defies logic,” said Scott Gagnon, member of the Maine Marijuana Advisory Council and a public health professional, who also participated in the news conference. Gagnon was also the director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine, which opposed the 2016 legalization of adult-use cannabis.

It will only serve to encourage black market activities to persist, he said, putting patients and public safety at risk.

In July 2020, investigators uncovered what they described as a far-reaching and elaborate conspiracy to grow and distribute marijuana in violation of the state’s medical marijuana laws.

The Farmington-based operation was aided by law enforcement and netted more than $13 million over six years by appearing to comply with medical marijuana rules, authorities said.

“The medical industry wants to be treated like other industries,” Gagnon said. “Well, we need to regulate it (as such).”

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