Last week, a column ran in this space ("The Changes to Maine's Medical Marijuana Industry Are Very, Very Bad," by Sam Haiden in the February 15 issue) that made some erroneous claims about the position Legalize Maine — the organization that successfully campaigned to legalize recreational marijuana in 2016 — holds concerning the potential merger of the medical and recreational industries.
In short, Legalize Maine's position remains unchanged, doesn’t think the industries should be merged, but they’re part of a coalition that’s ambivalent if it does.
Legalize Maine works alongside groups like Smart Approaches to Marijuana and the Christian Civic League to inform policy changes and offer recommendations to the the Maine Legislature’s committee on Marijuana Legalization Implementation as they continue to work on LD 1719, which is essentially a repeal-and-replace of the original citizen’s initiative.
The coalition is strictly informing adult-use policy, not the medical side of things, contrary to what last week's column implied. The coalition believes that the Maine DHHS will “suitably address” the concerns of stakeholders that don’t think the medical and recreational industries should be merged, although it seems that the HHS and MLI committees are leaning toward combining them anyway.
In a letter to the MLI committee from the cannabis coalition, Sen. Tom Saviello (R - District 17), recommended the changes that they felt would “bridge the gap” between diverse marijuana interest in Maine.
“The stakeholders who are directly impacted by this legislation, probably more so than anyone else, have gone to great lengths to accept a diverse compromise that is not directly in line with many respective ideologies, but in the interest of democracy and progress they have made difficult concessions,” wrote Saviello. “We hope that committee members and legislators will join us in that approach.”
I spoke with the President of Legalize Maine, Paul McCarrier, last week so he could have a chance to clarify his group's core values and explain what concessions he had to make with the coalition in order to help the committee draft what he hopes will be a veto-proof bill.
What is Legalize Maine’s core mission now that the campaign is long over?
We’re continuing to make sure that any sort of legislation is going to stick with what voters passed and to make sure it’s good policy for the state of Maine. We led the campaign to get it passed and we’re not just going to abandon it.
Our core values include a faithful implementation of the adult use cannabis law, protecting children and communities, making sure we empower municipalities and maximizing revenue for the state of Maine.
What are some of the biggest changes committee members are considering that you disagree with?
One of the big changes is that they’re going to be allowing an unlimited amount of commercial marijuana to be grown in the state of Maine. We disagree with that change because of the problems we see in other states like Oregon, where their massive overproduction of commercial marijuana is not just leading to unnecessary federal attention but also increased consolidation of the industry that’s hurting the average grower and the medical program.
The MLI committee is also talking about cutting off municipalities from any sort of revenue generated from adult use. But municipalities should be able to get something — in the law that voters passed municipalities would have been entitled to half of the licensing fee.
There has been an agreement to have the opt-in language. [Which means that municipalities will have to specifically ‘opt-in’ to allowing recreational marijuana industries within their borders, as opposed to the original language which would have had them ‘opt-out.’]
That is the coalition’s position even though we were opposed to it earlier. We’re making significant concessions and really compromising working with this coalition so we’re really hoping the committee hears us.
Who is calling for the merger of the medical and recreational industries?
The MLI committee originally said they’re going to stay away from it, but now they’re saying otherwise. We think there should be clear bright lines separating the programs to ensure the integrity of them. The question being, are they going to treat marijuana as simply a vice and a source of tax revenue or as something that can provide relief and treat a lot of maladies.
Who would benefit from such a merger?
That’s a really good question. To be frank, it’s yet to be seen whether regulating all legal marijuana under the Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations (BABLO) will be a good or bad thing. Because it’s also shifting the entire regulatory culture and the way that the agency is going to be looking at it.
We don’t think it should be moved under BABLO. They have a staff of only 11 people who are already busy enforcing the liquor and lottery laws. But, the way that things are looking, it seems they’ll be in charge of the adult-use program.
Have you heard any complaints from the medical industry?
In a lot of ways the word hasn’t gotten out yet. But I don’t think there’s a majority of support to have medical and adult use be merged among people who are currently patients and caregivers.