A Florida company has applied for a federal permit to build a facility in Maine to grow cannabis used in government-sanctioned research.

Maridose LLC is one of 27 companies with an application pending before the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to grow cannabis for use by the 350 scientists across the country, including two in Maine, who have federal approval to study marijuana. For the past half-century, only the University of Mississippi could legally grow the pot used in federally sanctioned research.

But in 2016, the DEA announced it would be opening up its marijuana cultivation contract to other growers in order to increase both the volume and the variety of research cannabis, which had been strictly limited because marijuana is illegal under federal law. Scientists have long complained about the difficulty of conducting clinically valid research with such a restricted supply of the drug.

Richard Shain, a retired Proctor & Gamble executive in Florida, wants to be one of those growers, and he wants to do it in Maine.

After reading the DEA’s announcement, Shain, a product development specialist, teamed up with Tikun Olam, Israel’s largest legal grower and supplier of medical pot, to launch Maridose. Under that corporate name, Shain has applied to become a federal supplier of research-grade cannabis grown in a 3-million-square-foot facility on 95 acres in Naples.

Shain used to live in Maine. He thinks it’s a good place to build a federal marijuana grow facility because of the low cost of building in Maine. And the state offers lucrative tax breaks to new businesses looking to come to Maine, he said.

ROOM TO EXPAND, GO COMMERCIAL

In its application, Maridose lays out its plan to produce up to 1,500 pounds of cannabis per year – the amount that researchers have demanded of the University of Mississippi in the past – in a 4,500-square-foot grow room. Shain said he would have the capacity to produce up to 4,500 pounds if the government decides to raise its quota because of increased demand.

He plans to petition the government to allow him to grow 4,500 pounds of marijuana a year and allow him to use an on-site extraction lab to turn the surplus marijuana into extracts that can be stored safely on a shelf for years without losing effectiveness. Maridose would sell the excess extracts to researchers as needed, but Shain believes he would soon be able to sell it on the open market.

Despite the Trump administration’s opposition to marijuana, Shain is confident that medical cannabis will become federally legal within five to seven years. With a little renovation, the proposed facility would be large enough to grow millions of pounds of marijuana a year, giving Maridose plenty of room to go commercial when that happens, Shain said.

MARIJUANA RESEARCH AT UMAINE

There is still a lot of uncertainty before Shain could break ground. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a noted opponent of marijuana, put the DEA’s research expansion plans on ice a few months after taking office, but Shain’s Washington consultants believe Sessions may be ready to restart the review of applications.

A DEA spokesman said the agency had suspended grower selection at Sessions’ request. He would not speculate about when or even if it might resume, or comment on the status of applications. Most applicants who seek to grow or study cannabis even with federal approval do not want people to know they’re doing it, the official said.

But the University of Maine cheered when two of its researchers won federal approval for a cannabis research project.

Biologist Jean Doty and chemist Terry Morocco joined the ranks of DEA-approved cannabis researchers in 2015, which means they’ve purchased marijuana from the University of Mississippi. They are in the middle of a four-year project to develop gene sequencing tests that determine medically desirable cannabis strains at an early stage of plant growth.

PERMIT EDGE FOR MARIDOSE?

There is no guarantee that Maridose will win one of the grow permits, or even how many permits are up for grabs among the 27 applicants.

When asked about the contract at an October 2017 hearing, Sessions told the Senate that competition is good, but that more than two dozen suppliers of government-funded cannabis would be too many.

Shain believes the DEA’s strict criteria used to judge the grow applications favor Maridose and give it a “really good shot” at what he believes will be three or four contracts. That’s because the criteria suggest the DEA is reluctant to do business with applicants who are currently growing cannabis in one of the 29 states where it is legal for medical or recreational use. Growing in a state market doesn’t violate state law, but it’s still a federal crime, and the criteria favor applicants who have a track record of following its rules.

But the DEA still wants an experienced partner, which is what makes Maridose’s partnership with Tikun Olam so important, Shain said. In 2006, Tikun Olam won Israel’s first license to grow and administer medical cannabis. U.S. researchers that use Maridose marijuana would gain access to clinical data collected from the 20,000 patients that have been treated with Tikun Olam’s marijuana.

If approved, Tikun Olam would share its cultivation and research expertise with Maridose, as well as its clinical database.

Shain said he is waiting to get the federal permit before formally seeking a building permit from Naples, but that early meetings with town officials indicate no opposition to his plan. After all, this would be a federally secure facility, with DEA-mandated security systems, Shain said. None of the marijuana grown there would be sold to the public.

Penelope Overton can be contacted at 791-6463 or at:

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Twitter: PLOvertonPPH

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