The Maine Medical Workgroup meet on Dec. 14, 2021, where they voted down recommended rule changes from the state’s Office of Cannabis Policy.

After two botched attempts to update Maine’s medical cannabis regulations, a pending new state law bars the Maine Office of Cannabis Policy from instituting new rules before they can be confirmed by the legislature.

Mark Barnett, a medical cannabis caregiver and the executive chair of the Maine Craft Cannabis Association, described the pending new law as including “much-needed protections for patients’ rights and for the industry regarding rulemaking and regulation from the Executive branch which has proven to be completely disconnected from the lived experience of that program and intrinsically hostile to its continued success.”

A renewed interest to regulate the medical market by the state regulators came after a major bust of an illicit cannabis ring.

“Onerous rule making only hamstrings those that are already trying to do the right thing,” said Asher Putterman, a medical caregiver who testified in favor of the bill. “We never caught all the weed growers when it was illegal and we’ll never catch them all now, you can’t stop people from growing plants in a clandestine fashion. It’s too easy to do.”

LD 1928, which was passed by the Senate and House before Maine Governor Janet Mills allowed it to pass without a signature on her April 26 deadline. The law will officially go into effect one month later. 

The law limits the Office of Cannabis Policy from enacting new regulatory rules without legislative approval. It also allows caregivers to provide telehealth services and creates stronger legal protections for caregivers.  

The Office of Cannabis Policy twice attempted to update medical cannabis business requirements, including implementing a mandatory seed-to-sale tracking system and instituting compulsory testing of all medical cannabis flower and other products. The rules were intended to bring the medical market closer to Maine’s adult use market, which already has required tracking through METRC and lab testing for potency and harmful substances such as mold or lead.

After the agency’s first attempt at an overhaul for the medical market was abandoned amid public outcry, the agency formed a Medical Workgroup to craft new rules with the input of caregivers, medical cannabis professionals and patients. 

Despite the inclusion of those stakeholders, after five meetings, the agency produced a second set of proposed rules in late 2021 that was also met with resistance. In January, 2022, the OCP announced that it was, once again, abandoning its proposal. 

Meanwhile, a new organization called Protect Maine’s Cannabis Consumers formed in March to lobby in favor of testing and tracking requirements for the medical market. 

“PMCC has two priorities, both driven by the goal that patients have access to safe marijuana produced by state licensed businesses: mandatory health and safety testing of medical marijuana and tracking of medical marijuana to ensure that it is coming from a legal source,” wrote spokesperson Kevin Kelley in a March interview with Grown In

The OCP also recently announced a name change for the agency on May 2, following the passage of LD 1957 which replaced the use of the word “marijuana” with “cannabis” in all related state regulation.

“Since our establishment, we have used the terms ‘cannabis’ and ‘marijuana’ interchangeably, understanding that the official terminology to define the substance we regulate has, regrettably, been fraught with historical connections to prohibition, stigma, and prejudice. The formal adoption of the term ‘cannabis’ in our laws sets an important and appropriate tone about the legitimacy of this industry, its operators, and consumers,” said OCP director Erik Gundersen in a May 2 statement announcing the name change.

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Zack cut his journalistic teeth covering high school sports in the south before spending a decade covering local government, politics and the courts in the Boston, Massachusetts area. He's previously written...