It’s become apparent that there’s a cloud over Maine’s medical cannabis program — and it’s not the air around the patients who are consuming the drug.

Rather, it’s unclear who has the authority to inspect the hundreds of caregivers authorized to grow the plant for patients in Maine. What’s making this subject a hot issue is the state’s recent decision to contract out caregiver inspections to former police officers working for a nonprofit organization.

Inspections are a legitimate way to ensure that a plant grown for medicinal purposes isn’t getting into the wrong hands. But the program that’s been created is not a long-term solution, and state lawmakers are wisely taking the opportunity to use the legislative process to develop a more substantive approach.

Four part-time employees of the nonprofit Maine Sheriffs’ Association have been doing caregiver compliance checks since the Maine Department of Health and Human Services signed a contract with the group March 1. Inspectors don’t do random checks; they respond only to complaints.

The DHHS has said that the effort was spurred by an increasing number of questions about whether growing operations are being conducted properly. But the agency hasn’t offered much more information — even to those most affected by the program, who’ve been put in a difficult position. One central Maine caregiver, for instance, didn’t know about the inspections until two inspectors showed up at his door, with no IDs other than business cards. Given that state law limits who has access to medical cannabis growing operations, caregivers have valid reason to open their doors only to authorized personnel.

Caregivers don’t have to let the inspectors in, according to state officials, who have emphasized the voluntary nature of the program. However, it’s unclear what recourse the DHHS has when an inspector is refused entry – and this lack of clarity on possible penalties calls into question whether caregivers really have a choice whether or not to cooperate.

Compounding the confusion is the gray area in Maine’s medical cannabis program: Nothing in state law outlines an inspection process for caregivers, though the DHHS has actively defended its authority to do the compliance checks.

Now a possible solution is before the Legislature, in the form of two separate bills (one sponsored by Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, and the other by Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton) that would institute a more formal inspection program. Without delving into the merits of the respective measures, we commend Sanderson and Saviello for setting in motion a process that includes the public in medical-cannabis policymaking. The program in its current form doesn’t incorporate outside input — and that’s not the way Maine makes law.

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