A controversial cannabis bill designed to reduce stigma surrounding the industry and revise regulations to more closely mirror those for alcohol-related industries is moving forward after substantial revisions.

The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee this week voted to endorse the bill, which will now to go the full Legislature for a vote.

The amended bill, sponsored by Sen. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, is a pared-back version of the original. The 66-page measure that was first introduced was panned by state, public health and law enforcement officials who said they were left out of the drafting process, and that dozens of pages of proposed regulatory changes arrived less than a week before a public hearing and too close to the end of the legislative session for close scrutiny.

But after several lengthy work sessions and behind-the-scenes negotiations with state officials and other stakeholders, committee members endorsed an amended bill that all sides were calling a collaborative compromise.

Among other changes, L.D. 40 aims to reduce the stigma surrounding cannabis by bringing the industry more in line with businesses that sell alcohol – requiring ID checks when a sale is made rather than at the door, eliminating background checks for most employees, and allowing minors to enter the businesses with a parent or guardian.

The bill would also cut much of the red tape and restrictions for adult cannabis businesses, including streamlining the reapplication process, eliminating the requirement for opaque packaging on marijuana products and clarifying some ambiguity around advertising.


Matt Hawes, a founding member of the Maine Cannabis Industry Association, said the bill and its drafting process offer a shining example of how the democratic process can work.

The bill is “a piece of legislation I can really confidently say is a true consensus across a really wide-ranging group of stakeholders,” he said.

It was also the first time representatives of both the medical and recreational markets – “groups who historically have always questioned whether it was in their best interest to trust each other and work together” – collaborated, Hawes said.

The industry, which combined brought in about $493 million in Maine last year, was hoping for more sweeping regulatory reforms, he added. Industry members intentionally stayed away from major changes to the recreational system’s track-and-trace and testing requirements, and instead focused on ways to reduce stigma and ultimately, Hawes said, he’s pleased with the way negotiations shook out.

Mark Barnett, a medical caregiver and policy director for the Maine Craft Cannabis Association, also applauded the collaboration.

“Everyone wants this program to improve,” he said. “This does a lot for undoing some of the stigma for cannabis operators.”


The Office of Cannabis Policy said in a statement that it was pleased to be able to provide feedback and develop a compromise.

“We are optimistic that the final form of the bill will strengthen Maine’s regulated cannabis programs while protecting public health and safety,” the office said.

The amended bill would require cannabis business principals to undergo a federal background check every two years but would stop requiring annual background checks for employees.

Cashiers selling liquor aren’t required to undergo federal background checks or annual fingerprinting, and cannabis business owners said during a public hearing that those requirements hinder their ability to adapt in a dynamic business landscape.

The bill would also broaden the production capabilities of many industry members. Under current law, license owners cannot produce any items that don’t contain cannabis. If passed, L.D. 40 would allow manufacturers to use their equipment to make food and drink products that do not contain cannabinoids or hemp.

The bill would also reduce some of the fines imposed on adult-use cannabis businesses for various infractions – some call for fines as high as $100,000, a figure large enough to put smaller operators out of business, some said. The bill would lower the maximum fine to $20,000 for major registration violations affecting public safety. Maximum fines for medical providers are $7,500.


Barnett said the reduction in fines was a huge win for the adult use industry. Similarly, in what he said was a major step forward for the medical market, the bill created a system of progressive enforcement for the medical industry and clarified the definitions of violations at each of the three tiers. Under current rules, the differences are unclear, and medical operators are never sure what might get their license revoked, Barnett said.

An early draft of the bill would have banned police from entering cannabis businesses, except under specific circumstances or with a warrant, but that provision was removed after pushback from law enforcement.

The original bill also would have allowed teenagers as young as 17 to work in cannabis establishments, another attempt to bring the industry in line with businesses that sell alcohol. But this was met with outcry from public health and state officials, who said it would appear to endorse recreational cannabis use by children.

The amended bill follows current law, which says industry employees must be at least 21 to work in the industry. It does, however, allow minors to enter a business, as long as they are accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Under current laws, parents have had to ask a dispensary employee to watch their child in the car or just outside while they run in to make a purchase, Hawes said.

That change would increase access for single parents, boosting equitability across the industry, he added.

Hawes said that overall the bill is “a solid, incremental advancement for the fair and equitable treatment of cannabis businesses.”

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