Maine has tapped a deputy state health commissioner with a background in construction lobbying to run its recreational marijuana program.

Scott T. Lever Photo courtesy of Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services

Scott Lever joined the state Department of Health and Human Services in January 2017, appointed by then-Gov. Paul LePage as a senior legal and policy adviser to help the department through a leadership transition and state government shutdown, according to his LinkedIn profile.

In August, Lever was promoted to deputy commissioner of health services, where he oversaw the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which is the former home of the state medical marijuana program, as well as the Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services.

Lever will earn $89,000 a year in his new job at the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services. He started on March 4.

In 2017, Lever testified on behalf of DHHS in opposition to an adult-use marijuana bill before the legislative committee tasked with overhauling the 2016 referendum question. In his testimony, Lever echoed LePage’s concern that the Legislature’s first attempt at launching adult-use sales could turn the state medical marijuana program into a “back door” to the recreational market or black market sales. He urged the committee to integrate the two programs. He was part of the team that helped move the medical program to DAFS last year.

Before joining the state, the Bangor native worked four years for Associated General Contractors of Maine, the state’s biggest construction trade association, as its chief legal officer and lobbyist in Augusta and Washington, D.C. His first job after graduating from the University of Maine law school in 2011 was a five-month stint at TD Bank, where he led a team that helped borrowers avoid foreclosure.

Lever will report to Erik Gundersen, who was recently appointed by DAFS Commissioner Kirsten Figueroa to head up the new Office of Marijuana Policy. Lever will work alongside Craig Patterson, a former DHHS management analyst who became the head of the state’s medical marijuana program in the fall of 2017.

The state’s medical program has been around for 20 years, although it only took on its current structure, with state-licensed dispensaries and a network of medical marijuana caregivers authorized to sell cannabis to patients with medical certifications, in 2009. State lawmakers overhauled the medical program last year to give Maine patients and the state’s 2,400 caregivers more freedoms, towns more control over caregiver stores and authorize six more dispensaries.

The adult-use marijuana program was approved by voters at a 2016 citizen referendum, legalizing home cultivation of a small amount of cannabis for personal use in January 2017. But Maine’s road to legal adult-use sales has been beset by legislative rewrites, gubernatorial vetoes and bureaucratic delays. The state hopes to make its goal of 2019 adult-use sales, but a string of recent contractual have slowed the process.

State officials still hope to submit proposed rules for legislative approval before lawmakers break for the summer in late June. They won’t return until January 2020.

But the hiring of an adult-use program manager is raising hope among some industry players who attended a networking breakfast in Portland Thursday.

“It’s movement, and that’s good,” said lawyer Dan Walker, who heads up Preti Flaherty’s cannabis practice, which sponsored the breakfast.

David Boyer of the state chapter of the Marijuana Policy Project applauded Lever’s hiring, and hopes it means the state will meet that rulemaking deadline.

“Massachusetts’ adult-use cannabis industry is firing on all cylinders while, unfortunately, our state can’t get out of the gate,” Boyer said.

Penelope Overton can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PLOvertonPPH

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