Maine lawmakers passed a far-reaching rewrite of the state's medical marijuana program this week, replacing qualifying conditions with doctors' discretion, expanding the number of allowed dispensaries, and allowing home-based caregivers to grow their businesses.
According to the Portland Press Herald, the MMJ overhaul bill, now awaiting final approval from Maine's notoriously anti-cannabis Governor, Paul LePage, is intended to reconcile the state's medical program with regulations for recreational marijuana, bolstering statewide cannabis access before the adult-use market debuts next year.
"This gives more clarity to municipalities, patients, and medical marijuana providers on what they can and can't do," Republican Senator Roger Katz said on Tuesday. "There is going to be a single set of rules if someone wants to set up a marijuana store."
In addition to opening medical marijuana access to anyone whose doctor recommends it, regardless of ailment, the MMJ rewrite will allow for six new dispensaries to open over the next three years, pushing the total number of state-sanctioned pot shops to 14. Facing increased competition from the state's impending recreational industry, the new legislation would also allow medical marijuana businesses to shed their nonprofit status and compete in an open market.
Piling on even more radical shifts to Maine's medical industry, the bill would also allow individual caregivers — medical marijuana providers distributing homegrown bud without a dispensary — to expand their businesses by hiring more employees and treating as many people as they can. Currently, non-dispensary caregivers are restricted to serve five patients max and have one employee at any given time.
But while all of those changes would move to expand Maine's marijuana industry, the newly-approved bill also features a number of restrictive protocols, most notably increased municipal power to restrict cannabis business and heightened state oversight of home caregivers.
To bring the state's medical program in-line with recreational regulations passed in May, Senator Katz and his legislative peers gave local municipalities the ability to "opt-in" to hosting cultivation sites or dispensaries, reversing Maine's longstanding "opt-out" rule. As the law currently stands, licensed operators can settle freely in any municipality that hasn't explicitly banned cannabusiness. If passed, local governments would have to explicitly welcome marijuana businesses before a dispensary or grow site could open.
For home-based caregivers, the expanded access would come with scrutiny from state authorities, who would be allowed to make unannounced home inspections whenever they please. Still, Maine medical marijuana advocates say the positives of the bill outweigh any negatives that may come from big brother's prying eyes.
"While not perfect, [it] supports greater patient access and safety, and expands caregivers' ability to serve their patients and operate as small businesses," Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine said in an email to members this week. "They gain the ability to hire the staff they need, to wholesale a portion of product grown when needed, access to processors that specialize, and clarity around the inspection process."
With approval from both the state Senate and House of Representatives, Gov. LePage now has 10 days to either approve or veto the medical marijuana bill.
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