Maine legislators were very clear when introducing the new recreational cannabis bill — one they hope will elude Gov. LePage's veto — when they said that the current medical marijuana laws would not be changed in any way. However, new regulations being developed, and soon implemented, would suggest otherwise.
Maine caregivers care for plants that care for people. Most of them simply grow cannabis flowers. However others are more creative, opting to produce added-value products like extracts, topicals, edibles and more. One of these is Sam Putnam of Coastal Remedies in Biddeford, a grassroots Maine business dedicated to the service of helping caregivers create added-value products with their cannabis flowers.
The DHHS threw a wrench into the machine of the cannabis industry when they released a mandate in November which said that cannabis flowers grown by a caregiver may only be handled by the caregiver who grew them, the caregiver’s patients, or the caregiver’s employee. This means that caregivers who grow flowers cannot donate flowers to caregivers who provide extraction services. Up until this point, extractors have worked in a gray area, maintaining distance from ownership of medical marijuana through tactful labeling, record keeping, and using a reciprocal donation system between two licensed caregivers. The new DHHS rules would take effect February 1.
"Unfortunately, the clarification by DHHS that any cannabis product consumed by a patient need to be produced by the caregiver or the caregiver’s employee eliminated the ability for service-based medical marijuana companies to operate," say Putnam.
This appears to be a dramatic change for the medical industry, however it doesn’t actually represent a change at all — only a clarification. Medical cannabis law never said anything about the process of providing an extraction service, and contrary to popular belief, the law never prohibited it either. This is a perfect example of the “Wild West” gray area derided so frequently by legislators on the Maine Committee on Marijuana Legalization. Effectively, what is not explicitly prohibited is allowed. However, now that extraction services have been rendered explicitly prohibited, Senator Eric Brakey (R-District 20) is working to amend the legislation in the favor of grassroots medical cannabis businesses.
Senator Brakey has proposed a bill ("An Act to Amend the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Act – LD 238) with regards to the service industry of processing cannabis. This bill breaks down a simple method of licensing and regulating service providers in the cannabis industry by requiring them to apply for an independent license and subjecting them to regulations on equipment, safety, and process.
The bill is not available publicly yet, as it has to go through the house and the senate before approval, and then must dodge the imminent veto which will come from Gov. LePage. However, assuming it gets approved, it will create an entirely new license category which is not restricted to caregivers. Yes, that’s right. Anybody could become an “extraction artist,” caregiver, or otherwise. If this doesn’t sound right to you, consider the following: you basically need a degree in chemistry to produce some of the most sought-after products in the cannabis world, and most caregivers are so dedicated to farming that they couldn’t dream of having the time to create a full-scale production laboratory.
“As a cannabis caregiver, why would you attempt to produce your own specialty products with limited time, equipment, and knowledge when you could go to a licensed processor competing in the open market for your business?” says Putnam. “The initial investment to produce a CO2 extract can be upwards of a $100,000. To produce a simple CBD oil can cost upwards of $25,000 and building a certified kitchen to get edibles to your patients could run you tens of thousands. A single caregiver doing all this is not feasible.”
With service-based cannabis businesses gaining in popularity, one might ask themselves why or even how we have gone this long without regulating their production in the first place? The bottom line is that, while many legislators on the Maine Committee on Marijuana Legalization have some experience in the cannabis industry, many of them are not fully informed about what happens on the ground level of the cannabis industry.
Caregivers like Putnam are leading the path towards change by working with legislators on a municipal and state level to help make the most informed decision possible. The best thing the community can do as a whole is open up lines of communication so that all parties can be informed.