A recent major drug bust in central Maine has renewed discussion about how to regulate its medical cannabis market. Operators participating in the state’s adult-use market are required to use the METRC seed-to-sale tracking system, but the lack of a seed-to-sale system for medical leaves almost all operators susceptible to illicit trafficking as a result.
Maine currently has five registered medical cannabis dispensaries that are all vertically-integrated operations. The state also has about 3,000 registered medical cannabis caregivers, who are allowed to cultivate, wholesale and deliver cannabis. These smaller operators would likely be the most affected by additional regulation.
“I think it’s necessary,” said Alex Andolina, sales manager for Above All Greenery. “It’s something that anybody that’s been in the industry pretty knows it was coming. If you fail to prepare for it, you’re preparing to fail.”
Above All Greenery is a medical wholesaler that operates a 6,000 square-foot cultivation site in West Newfield in southwest Maine. Andolina said that there had been discussion in the state about implementing a tracking system on medical cannabis for at least two years before the Farmington bust happened.
“The pandemic has basically prolonged it being implemented. it’s one of those things I feel that if you’re not prepared, you should have been,” he said. “Even five years ago when I moved up into this state to do this, I knew eventually the hammer would come down hard on businesses.”
Raven Foss operates Raven’s View Farms, also located in southwest Maine. The business cultivates and delivers cannabis to medical patients. Having to use a seed-to-sale tracking system would create an unfair burden on her business, according to Foss.
“I have to say I am not in favor of a seed-to-sale tracking requirement,” she said. “Growing cannabis is an extremely labor and time intensive profession and adding onerous record keeping on top of what we already are required to do would probably put a lot of us smaller caregivers out of business. I already keep track of my sales, and pay my taxes. Other than unnecessary overreach, I don’t see the point.”
Renewed concern over seed-to-sale tracking comes following the Oct. 27 arrest of 13 individuals allegedly involved in a $13 million illicit cannabis ring. The Department of Justice alleges that the defendants planned to obtain and distribute over 1,000 kilograms of flower and 1,000 cannabis plants. Prosecutors charge the operation took advantage of Maine’s medical cannabis program, which does not require seed tracking.
Erik Gundersen, director of the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy, said that he believed there was more criminal activity taking place within the medical cannabis market at a Nov. 10 hearing. During the hearing Gundersen said that without a seed tracing system his office was limited at enforcing violations, because of its relatively small staff compared to the state’s expansive caregiver and medical cannabis market.
“What the regulatory body here has been trying to do, unsuccessfully so, is to get some parity between the medical and adult-use market,” said Matt Baylis, founder of cannabis cultivator Gėlė, in South Portland. “In the medical market it’s very much unregulated.”
Although Bayliss tends to be skeptical of how cannabis in the state is regulated, he does see value in some additional oversight of medical cannabis.
“I think there needs to be some regulation for the medical market to protect it from itself,” he said. “There are people that are pushed out by larger operators that exploit the caregiver model.”