Cannabis regulation in Maine is currently in a state of flux as the Office of Cannabis Policy moves forward on implementing bills passed by the legislature earlier in the year without its long-time executive director at the helm.
Erik Gundersen announced earlier this month that he was going to resign from his post. Less than a week later, his final day on the job was Friday, Oct. 7. Since then, OCP has yet to name a successor, but Deputy Director of Operations, Vern Malloch has been serving as interim director.
Gundersen, who spent three years and nine months in the position, served as the office’s first director, launching the state’s adult use market in 2020. He has yet to publicly announce where he is going following his time working for the state.
Before directing OCP, Gundersen was a political aide, working as a Democratic campaign manager and in Maine’s House Speaker’s office in two separate stints. In contrast, Malloch spent 35 years on Portland’s police force. In his final year, he served as acting Police Chief.
On Malloch’s first day as interim director, he ran a meeting for the state’s METRC work group, which was formed over the summer to consider changes to seed tracking requirements for the adult use market. Gundersen had previously been presiding over those meetings.
“I am wearing the interim director’s hat as of Friday afternoon at four o’clock when Erik Gundersen left us for greater pastures,” said Malloch at the opening of the Oct. 11 meeting of the state’s METRC work group.
The OCP operates under the umbrella of the state’s Department of Administrative and Financial Services.
Over the last two years, OCP has twice been unsuccessful at updating the seed tracking requirements for medical cannabis. Currently, medical dispensaries and caregivers are not required to test their products. Meanwhile, the adult use market is required to test for potency, microbials, and other contaminants. The effort from OCP was intended to bring medical and adult use regulations into closer parity, but it was repeatedly met with strong opposition from the state’s vibrant caregiver market.
The conflict culminated in the legislature passing a bill earlier this year limiting the extent to which OCP can modify its regulations without legislative oversight. Basically, if OCP wants to change any rules for the medical market, they have to ask the legislature to write a law about it.
Earlier this summer, started a different approach to finding parity by creating a METRC work group that would find ways to make seed tracking less burdensome for the adult use market.
At the same time, the OCP just completed its listening tour around the state, seeking feedback on what the office should work on in terms of new regulations ahead of the 2023 legislative season.
“Part of what we need to do as a committee is to develop a report back to the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee about the work we did,” said Malloch, during the Oct. 11 METRC work group meeting.
On Gundersen’s final day, he issued a new guidance memo for cannabis operators explaining that pre-rolls, rolling paper, filters, electronic smoking devices, pipes and vape juice are all considered tobacco products under state law. This means that they can only be sold by an operator with a retail tobacco license, which requires a storefront and face-to-face sales. That excludes delivery and smaller caregivers.
“A tobacco product is also any product that contains nicotine, that is meant to be smoked, heated, chewed, absorbed, dissolved, inhaled or ingested by any other means, and any component or accessory used in the consumption of a tobacco product,” said the memo before specifying which products are applicable.
Violations of this rule could result in criminal charges and at least $1,000 in fines. The sale of tobacco products is restricted in Maine for those under 21, which excludes medical cannabis patients that are 18-20.
Naturally, this is a point of consternation from Maine’s activist community.
“A pre rolled joint in a cone labeled ‘not for tobacco use, for legal herb use only’ is not a fucking tobacco product. I will not comply with that one!” wrote one caregiver on social media in response to the guidance.