The state’s largest medical marijuana dispensary was the single biggest donor to Janet Mills’ gubernatorial inauguration.

Gov. Janet Mills talks to a supporter before going onstage at her inaugural celebration at the Augusta Civic Center on Friday night.

Wellness Connection of Maine, which runs four of the state’s eight licensed medical cannabis dispensaries, gave $25,000 to the Mills Inaugural Committee on Dec. 21, according to financial reports filed at the Maine Ethics Commission this week. Two other Maine dispensaries, Maine Organic Therapy of Ellsworth and Remedy Compassion Center of Auburn, gave $10,000 apiece.

Maine dispensary operators underscored their support for Mills, who as a candidate summed up her cannabis platform like this: “tax it, test it and regulate it.”

“Maine’s dispensary operators are all very proud to demonstrate support for the Mills administration, which has already indicated that it’s accepting of our industry and willing to make much needed progress within it,” read a statement issued by Wellness late Friday on behalf of five of Maine’s medical marijuana dispensaries, including Canuvo of Biddeford and Safe Alternatives of Caribou, which didn’t donate to Mills’ inauguration.

Donations from dispensaries represented almost 19 percent of the $241,000 that Mills had raised to fund her inauguration by the Dec. 22 report filing date.

The state’s dispensaries have a lot on the line right now, both on the medical and recreational front.

In July, the state adopted a new medical marijuana law that will expand the state dispensary program for the first time since its 2011 launch.

Wellness has not ruled out seeking one of the four new licenses that will be up for grabs. Like other medical providers, Wellness and Remedy want to get into the upcoming adult use marijuana market that voters approved in 2016, state lawmakers retooled in May and is expected to roll out in late 2019.

‘PAY TO PLAY’

Their chief rivals, Maine’s 2,900 medical marijuana caregivers, point to the high-profile dispensary donations as blatant efforts to curry political favor and to expand their business footprint in Maine, which is likely to be only the second East Coast state to roll out recreational sales. Dawson Julia, an outspoken caregiver in Unity, called the donations a classic “pay to play” maneuver that has become a trademark Wellness move.

Gov. Janet Mills greets the crowd at her inaugural celebration Friday night at the Augusta Civic Center. The Mills Inaugural Committee collected thousands of dollars in donations from Maine marijuana dispensaries.

“They want to control the market and design the rules to their advantage and to the disadvantage of the little guys,” Julia said.

Last month, Maine hired BOTEC Analysis of Los Angeles, a consulting firm that helped roll out the Washington state adult-use cannabis market, to help the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services write recreational marijuana rules and regulations, and amend some of its medical marijuana rules. BOTEC is not aligned with the dispensaries or the caregivers. It is supposed to submit its proposed rules by May, but most will require legislative approval before they go into effect.

SEATS ON POT ADVISORY PANEL

But it’s not just the legislative rule making, or the additional medical licenses, that caregivers like Julia believe the dispensaries are trying to control. They claim the dispensaries bought long-term political control by securing two seats on the new Marijuana Advisory Commission, a 15-person panel that will review state medical and adult-use laws and recommend changes needed to preserve the public’s health and safety and integrate the two programs.

A boisterous crowd greets Gov. Janet Mills at her inaugural celebration Friday at the Augusta Civic Center.

Legislative leaders appointed Wellness lobbyist Dan Walker and lobbyist Hannah King of Maine Professionals for Regulating Marijuana to the panel, which has no direct regulatory power but will make recommendations to the Legislature. But not all of the appointments are likely to Wellness or the dispensaries’ liking – Scott Gagnon, the head of the Maine chapter of prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, also was named to the commission.

Other big donors to the inaugural fund included Oxford Casino and ND Paper, which owns mills in Rumford and Old Town and donated $15,000. Other donors at the $10,000 level included well-known Maine companies such as L.L. Bean and Unum, law firms like Bernstein Shur and Pierce Atwood, and a few headline makers, like Hollywood Casino of Bangor, Sazerac Co., which owns a Lewiston distillery and bottling company, and Enbridge Inc., owner of a natural gas pipeline that runs through Maine.

Mills can keep raising money through the end of the month, but the ethics regulations say she must hand over what she hasn’t spent by Jan. 31 to the state, a charity or back to donors. Records show she had spent about $50,000 of the inaugural donations as of Wednesday.

NEW RULE ON REVEALING DONORS

Mills raised $25,000 from individuals to fund her transition, but reports show medical marijuana leaders were not among the corporate executives on that list. It did not appear dispensaries donated to Mills’ gubernatorial campaign, according to the latest campaign reports. Some caregivers donated to Mills’ campaign, however, including Paul McCarrier, head of Legalize Maine, who gave $350. Canuvo founder Glenn Peterson donated $500 to Republican candidate Shawn Moody.

Mills is the first governor who must reveal who is bankrolling her activities between her election in November and her move into the governor’s office in January. Past governors were able to accept donations during this time without reporting it.

Former Gov. Paul LePage voluntarily disclosed the names of his post-election donors, but not how much they gave. In 2015, voters passed a law that required incoming governors to disclose transitional donations.

None of the three dispensaries that donated to Mills’ inaugural committee were on LePage’s list of inaugural donors. All three had secured permits from the state to open their dispensaries in the months leading up to LePage’s election, albeit under different names for two of them – Wellness was still operating as Northeast Patients Group and Maine Organic Therapy was then Primary Organic Therapy.

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

[email protected]

Twitter: PLOvertonPPH

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