New England’s largest medical marijuana convention will be held in Portland this weekend, highlighting the state’s prominence in the medical marijuana industry.

The arrival of the Portland Cannabis Convention in Maine comes as states across the nation consider legalizing medical or recreational use of the drug, a reflection of changing societal attitudes and the prospect of generating significant tax revenues. The event, organized by the New England Cannabis Network, will include more than 60 local and national cannabis industry businesses, as well as marijuana activists and experts from across the region.

“This is showing how medical marijuana here is in the mainstream and how we in the state have accepted it as a viable industry and a viable treatment for a lot of ailments,” said Paul McCarrier, a caregiver and patient advocate who will speak on a panel about medical marijuana law.

The two-day event at the University of Southern Maine will include panel discussions and keynote addresses by industry experts on topics such as the marijuana legal landscape, the therapeutic uses of marijuana, the endocannabinoid system and empowering women in the cannabis industry. There will be a number of live demonstrations, including plant cropping techniques and tincture making.

There have been several medical cannabis conventions hosted by Maine groups in the past, but this is the first time an out-of-state group has brought one to the state. Marc Shepard, one of the convention founders, said the New England Cannabis Network held two conventions in Boston and one in Providence, Rhode Island, this year, drawing as many as 6,000 people per event. Maine seemed a natural fit to bring people in the industry together, he said.

“We know Maine is at the forefront for marijuana in New England,” Shepard said.

The convention kicks off Saturday and runs through Sunday afternoon at the University of Southern Maine. A separate Maine Cannabis Film Festival will be held at 5 p.m. Friday at USM.

Cannabis is the fastest growing United States industry, with an estimated economic impact of up to $11.1 billion in 2015. That number is expected to rise as other states allow medical and recreational marijuana use and could reach $29 billion by 2019, according to The ArcView Group, a California-based cannabis industry investment and research firm. For every $1 of legally sold cannabis, $2.60 of economic value enters the American economy.

In Maine, there are eight dispensaries and some 2,000 registered caregivers. Experts estimate there are about 50,000 medical marijuana patients in the state. Maine’s program generated an estimated $60 million to $75 million in revenue reported to the Maine Revenue Services in 2014, according to a Portland Press Herald estimate based on the number of registered caregivers.

Between $4 million and $5 million was paid in medical marijuana taxes in 2014. The Maine Revenue Service reported that the eight licensed dispensaries sold $16 million worth and generated $900,000 in sales tax in 2014, a 40 percent increase from 2013 and more than three times the amount in 2012.

Becky DeKeuster, director of education and community outreach for Wellness Connection, which runs four dispensaries, will give the keynote address Sunday. She said having a regional group choose Maine as a venue is “promising” for the industry in Maine. While the focus of the convention is on medical marijuana, she anticipates the prospect of a legal adult-use market will be a popular topic of discussion.

“While we have not expanded the number of dispensaries, the number of caregivers and folks growing for themselves is expanding. These are the people who will form a good basis for us to have a successful legalization program,” she said. “I think (legalization) will be on a lot of minds. The conversation nationally has really taken off. There is a great deal that we can learn about how to roll out a legal adult-use program from the kinds of regulations that exist in the current medical program.”

If Maine voters decide to legalize recreational use of marijuana, the state could take in $26.7 million in revenue from taxes and fees per year, according to Wellness Connection officials.

A poll in the spring of 2015 by Critical Insights, a Portland market research firm, found that 65 percent of Mainers support legalizing marijuana.

Maine is one of 34 states that allow some form of medical cannabis. Maine legalized medical uses in 1999 and the state’s first dispensaries opened in 2011. Last year, Maine’s program was voted the best medical marijuana program in the country by Americans for Safe Access, a national group that advocates for legal access to medical cannabis.

The number of states that allow recreational use for adults is on the rise and could include Maine if an effort to place a legalization question on the November 2016 ballot is successful. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., have passed state laws legalizing recreational pot.

Ohio voters this week rejected a legalization measure that was controversial because it would have limited marijuana production to a small handful of the initiative’s wealthy donors. Ohio’s initiative was not backed by the national advocacy groups that have endorsed recreational legalization plans in other states.

This week, independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont introduced a bill that would end federal prohibition of marijuana. The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act would remove marijuana from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s list of “most dangerous” drugs and strike it from the Controlled Substances Act, effectively allowing states to decide if they want to allow legalized marijuana for medical or recreational uses.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.