AUGUSTA — Bankers, accountants, lawyers, real estate brokers and other professionals hoping to serve Maine’s recreational marijuana industry spent much of the $270,000 that has been paid to State House marijuana lobbyists so far in 2017.

That figure is sizable by Maine standards, representing about 5 percent of the $4.8 million in total lobbying expenditures so far this year.

The money being spent to influence legislation reflects the potential size of the recreational pot market: nearly $300 million in sales a year by 2020, according to one attorney involved in lobbying legislators.

A bill to create a regulatory framework for the new industry will go to public hearing in September, but implementation of the law is expected to miss the February 2018 deadline spelled out in the ballot question approved by voters last fall.

Between April 1 and June 30, the latest period for which figures are available from the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, clients paid lobbyists more than $126,000 to represent them on marijuana-related issues before the Legislature. That brings the total spent so far in 2017 to $271,102.

For comparison, clients have spent about $450,000 at the national level to lobby Congress on marijuana. That figure includes $210,000 spent by garden fertilizer giant Scotts Miracle-Gro. The company has developed a line of products for growing marijuana, according to the Center for Responsive Politics’ opensecrets.org website, which tracks federal campaign finance and lobbying information.

Based on reports filed with the Maine ethics commission, about a dozen lobbyists are working on the marijuana issue. Maine Professionals for Regulating Marijuana, a nonprofit with close ties to the Portland law firm Drummond Woodsum, appears to be the top-paying client. The groups bills itself as a broad coalition of interests – including financial institutions and advisers, attorneys, real estate agents, land use planners and marijuana dispensaries – “who advocate for quality, safety and transparency in the marijuana industry in Maine.”

VARIETY OF GROUPS BEHIND LOBBYISTS

Others who have hired lobbyists include the campaign that pushed for the successful November 2016 referendum drive to legalize recreational use, medical marijuana dispensaries that hope to get in on the recreational marijuana market, and a coalition of medical marijuana caregivers, who already are legally growing marijuana plants for their patients and also want a chance at retail licenses for recreational marijuana.

The top-earning lobbyist to date is Toby McGrath, a consultant who leads the government relations and campaigns practice group at Drummond Woodsum. Another of the firm’s attorneys, Hannah King, is a member of the advisory board of directors for Maine Professionals Regulating Marijuana. She estimated that recreational marijuana sales in Maine could bring in $290 million a year by 2020.

From December of last year through March, McGrath was paid $54,338, and he added another $9,924 in lobbying charges between Apri1 1 and June 30.

Cheryl Timberlake, an Augusta-based consultant, also was hired by Maine Professionals Regulating Marijuana and was paid $13,500 for lobbying on marijuana bills from April through June. Timberlake also is the treasurer of Horseracing Jobs Fairness, the ballot question committee that supports a Nov. 7 referendum asking voters to approve a casino in York County. The casino campaign and its financing are the subject of investigations by both the Maine ethics commission and the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee.

Daniel Walker, an attorney and partner in the PretiFlaherty law firm, earned $20,750 working on marijuana issues from April through June. Walker lobbies for Wellness Connection of Maine, a nonprofit that operates state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries in Bath, Brewer, Gardiner and Portland.

STIGMA TIED TO POT INDUSTRY REMAINS

Other lobbyists in the mix include two well-known former Republican state lawmakers, Josh Tardy and Jonathan Courtney. Courtney, a former Senate majority leader, reported $6,750 in income from his client, Wellness & Pain Management Connection LLC of Maryland.

The Maryland company made its first entry into Maine’s marijuana industry in 2011, when it loaned $1.6 million to Northeast Patients Group to open a medical marijuana dispensary in Thomaston.

Tardy, a former House minority leader, has earned $30,000 so far this year working for Crockett and Crockett Consulting LLC, which is registered as a Waterville consulting firm with the Maine Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions. Crockett and Crockett appears to be headed by Mark Crockett, the owner and operator of a marijuana caregiver facility in Thomaston.

He did not return a message seeking comment Tuesday.

Lobbyist Paul McCarrier, who works for Legalize Maine, a coalition focused on protecting the financial interests of smaller marijuana growers in Maine, was paid $17,100 during the April-June reporting period. That’s in addition to the $15,000 he earned from December to March.

King, at Maine Professionals Regulating Marijuana, said the nonprofit’s backers are reluctant to be identified. State campaign finance laws require the organization to report its spending on lobbyists, but it is not required to disclose the identities of its donors because it is not a ballot question committee or political action committee.

King said there continues to be a stigma attached to the marijuana industry, as well as some uncertainty with regard to whether the federal government will change course on Obama-era policies. “Maine is still likely a year or more away from issuing licenses for adult-use marijuana establishments, and individuals are still making decisions about whether or not to publicly participate in the adult-use marijuana market,” she said.

Many of the lobbyists working on the marijuana issue have experience working with lawmakers and agencies that oversee other closely regulated industries in Maine, including alcohol, tobacco and casino gambling.

Lawmakers continue to say they are not surprised by the heavy lobbying effort in Maine.

“This is a potentially lucrative new industry, so it is no surprise that the various stakeholders have an interest in how the law is going to work out,” said Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta.

Katz is the Senate chairman of a special Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee, which is developing legislation that will likely go to public hearings in September. The Legislature would have to reconvene in a special session to take up the bill, which would then go through agency rulemaking before retail sales could begin, possibly late in 2018.

Katz said lobbying costs could exceed $500,000 before the rules for recreational marijuana sales are in place.

“That wouldn’t shock me,” he said.

A HOST OF ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITIES

King said members of Maine Professionals Regulating Marijuana see an economic opportunity to provide services to the new industry. Many sectors, from law firms like hers that have developed a specialty in regulated substances – especially around cannabis – to accountants, construction firms and bankers, stand to gain economically, in some cases substantially, from an anticipated boom.

“An industry of this size will create a host of entrepreneurial and employment opportunities for many Mainers,” King wrote in an email. “MPRM believes that the economic promise of this industry will be closely tied to the quality, integrity and thoughtfulness of the regulatory regime put in place by our state government and by local municipalities.”

Others backing the efforts of Maine Professionals Regulating Marijuana include Portland accountant Pete Dufour, who was recruited to help on tax and accounting issues.

“I have no financial stake in the industry,” Dufour wrote in an email. “Frankly, I find the legal cannabis space intellectually fascinating. Recreational marijuana is almost certainly here to stay in Maine, and as a CPA, licensed under state law, I feel I have an obligation to develop competence in this area so that I can provide appropriate guidance to those clients and prospective clients who are interested in exploring business opportunities in this new sector.”

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 11:02 a.m. on Sept. 1, 2017 to correct the amount of income reported by Jonathan Courtney and to correct the total amounts spent by interest groups.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

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