Charles Hawkins spent his last dime opening a medical marijuana shop in Windham last July.

Four months later, Maine’s Alternative Caring was booming, recording close to 100 transactions a day while serving 1,000 patients. Demand was so high he couldn’t keep enough product on the shelf. What he needed to do was grow, fast, but he was out of money.

As a marijuana business, Hawkins couldn’t find a federally-backed bank to loan funds to a business in violation of federal law. Local investors were tired of sinking money into an industry so slow to launch. He had to go to Virginia to find a couple who believed in cannabis to front him $100,000.

“In the cannabis industry, that’s not a lot of money, but it’s what MAC needed,” said Hawkins. “Today, MAC has seen over 2,400 patients. Close to 1,700 regulars. An average of 4,000 transactions a month. Next week, we’ll hit a million in sales since January 1.”

Hawkins would like to get a recreational marijuana license, but under proposed state regulations, he’d have never been able to secure that $100,000 loan. The proposed state rules say all adult-use cannabis business applicants, directors and investors must have lived in Maine for at least 4 years.

The idea of writing rules that will direct as much of the benefits of legalizing marijuana to Mainers is a good one, Hawkins said. But he urged state regulators to remember that locals like him couldn’t realize those benefits without access to at least some out-of-state cash.

Hawkins was one of several dozen people who shared their marijuana story Thursday at the state’s first public airing of its proposed rules for recreational cannabis. The Maine Office of Marijuana Policy will accept written comments through Sunday, June 2

Concerns about local license preferences, taxes, prices, testing and packaging and labeling requirements dominated the two hour hearing. The Maine Office of Marijuana Policy will consider comments, and any others submitted through June 2, before sending a final version to state lawmakers next month.

Erik Gundersen, Maine’s marijuana policy director, said the legislative committee that will get the rules – most likely the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee – will hold its own public hearing on the proposals, so Thursday’s hearing won’t be the last time people can weigh in on the regulations.

Gundersen hopes Maine can start accepting marijuana business license applications by year’s end.

Paul McCarrier, the head of Legalize Maine, the pro-cannabis advocacy group that helped write the citizen initiative that voters approved in 2016, was the first to speak Thursday and reminded state officials conducting the hearing that every regulation will raise prices.

As the owner of 1 Mill, a medical marijuana shop in Belfast, McCarrier said many of his customers can’t afford to shoulder the cost of unnecessary regulations. Every little increase, while seemingly insignificant on its own, adds up, he said, making it that much more likely that they’ll turn to the black market.

“Five dollars is a make-or-break point for them,” he said.

Speakers raised concerns about everything from the tax rate, saying it was too high, to the labeling and packaging requirements, calling them excessive. While the tax rate is set by law and can’t be changed, the packaging requirements are part of the rule-making process.

Mark Barnett, a caregiver who runs a coffee shop in Portland, said proposed cannabis rules require excessive packaging and discriminate against outdoor grows, which not only drives up prices, but hurts the environment. He encouraged policy makers to make the rules more environmentally friendly.

“Aggressive packaging and labeling rules serve only to create mountains of plastic waste and frankly would do vastly more harm to the public health than any accidental ingestion or diversion,” he said. “Compared to alcohol, tobacco or bleach, all of which are not required to come in layers of child proof plastic crammed with warning labels, cannabis is a pretty incredibly safe substance.”

Greg Silverchild Gould, a maker of medical marijuana edibles, said it would cost a one-man shop like his $5,000 to stamp each candy he makes with a universal cannabis symbol, forcing him to buy chocolate from Walmart instead of his local craft chocolatier.

The Maine Office of Marijuana Policy has already amended its proposed rules once. After it published a first draft of the regulations, developed in consultation with the firm of Freedman & Koski of Colorado, the department tweaked a few dozen definitions based on the initial reaction from the industry.

Voters approved legalization of adult-use cannabis in November 2016. While limited home grow was allowed by January 2017, the state has struggled to launch a commercial market, having to overcome legislative rewrites, gubernatorial vetoes and contractual snafus.

National consultants estimate that Maine’s market, once launched, could hit $265 million a year and employ as many as 5,400 people. Maine expects it will start accepting recreational cannabis business license applications this year as long as draft rules are passed before lawmakers go on summer break.

 

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