The Maine Senate and House voted Tuesday night to pass a sweeping medical marijuana reform bill that overhauls the caregiver system.
The bill, which now goes to Gov.Paul LePage, would let caregivers expand their business operations. For example, they could hire more than one worker, and sell up to 30 percent of their harvest to other caregivers and dispensaries. In exchange, however, they would have to submit to more state oversight, like unannounced state inspections and seed-to-sale tracking.
The bill allows caregivers to open retail stores, letting them become mini dispensaries that can serve as many card-carrying patients as they can from 30 flowering marijuana plants, but only in towns that have authorized medical marijuana storefronts.
The municipal opt-in requirement was added by Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, mirroring a provision in the adult-use law.
“This gives more clarity to municipalities, patients and medical marijuana providers on what they can and can’t do,” Katz said on Tuesday night before a Senate chamber that was down seven members as the special session wound down. “There is going to be a single set of rules if someone wants to set up a marijuana store.”
Months of consideration
The original bill, which was written by the Health and Human Services Committee after months of consideration, gave towns a lot of authority to regulate caregivers, including their retail shops, through ordinances or zoning, but the Katz amendment essentially allows a town to shut out caregiver retail stores by doing nothing. This mirrors the state’s recently passed adult-use cannabis law.
The amendment also would allow towns to shut down existing stores that have popped up without municipal authorization.
The medical marijuana reform bill faced a long road to even get its shot at becoming a law. It had received support in both chambers in the regular session, but it had been held before it could get the final votes needed to go to Gov. Paul LePage until Sen. Scott Cyrway, R-Benton, could get the Senate to consider his bill to repeal Maine’s adult-use cannabis referendum.
Cyrway’s bill — which the former DARE officer described as an effort to “put the horse back in the barn” — failed 13-18.
Senators made other changes to the bill from the floor, too, including one that would require caregivers authorized to give cannabis to a child on school grounds to undergo a background check, unless that caregiver is the child’s parent or guardian. That’s the same level of scrutiny applied to any volunteer who comes onto school grounds, said Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn.
LePage, a staunch opponent of legalized cannabis, has sought greater state control over the state’s medical marijuana program, especially its caregiver network. Upon official receipt of the bill, LePage will have 10 days to sign, veto or allow the bill to become law without his signature.
Authorizing a patient’s marijuana
While the underlying reform bill focuses most of its attention on caregivers, it would also change patients and dispensary rules.
The bill would allow doctors to authorize a patient’s medical marijuana use if the doctor thinks it will alleviate a medical diagnosis, but it would no longer limit authorization to a specific list of medical conditions. If certification is intended to treat substance use disorder, that doctor would have to develop a recovery plan with the patient. It requires an in-person visit for first-time certification.
The bill would allow dispensaries to shed their nonprofit status and authorize the department to issue six new dispensary licenses over the next three years, increasing the total number of dispensaries in Maine from eight to 14. It allows dispensaries to add another 7,000 square feet of growing space every two years.
The House was expected to take up the reform bill Tuesday night, according to legislative staff.
The Senate also breathed new life into Maine’s marijuana processors, who had been forced to shut down under Department of Health and Human Services rules that went into effect in May that deemed the labs that extract concentrates used to make edibles, tinctures and oils to be an illegal collective. It voted 28-3 in favor of an emergency processor bill that now goes to the House.
This bill would establish two levels of manufacturing facility licenses, and requires someone making a marijuana product that is created with an inherently hazardous substance, such as butane, propane or carbon dioxide, to get an additional state certification. That permit would require a third-party state-licensed engineer to sign off on the facility, equipment and extraction methods.