Efforts to keep some marijuana license details secret have divided Maine’s cannabis community: some see secrecy as protection from rivals and theft, while others worry it will allow out-of-state raiders to take over the local adult-use market.

But the industry is united against a state proposal to deem alcohol-based extraction of marijuana oil a hazardous process, saying it would price out most small operators, render at-home extraction illegal and drive up the retail costs of marijuana edibles, salves and tinctures.

Those were among dozens of proposed changes sought Monday during a two-hour committee hearing on L.D. 2091, an Office of Marijuana Policy bill to amend Maine’s adult-use marijuana legalization law before the market opens this spring.

An underlying theme of David versus Goliath echoed through much of the public testimony.

“The alcohol issue is nothing more than a big money game to squeeze the little guy out of business,” said caregiver Dawson Julia, who owns a medical marijuana shop in Unity that sells infused goods as well as smokeable flower and is the founder of United Coalition of Maine.

As for license secrecy, Julia said the state government is demanding too much information from license applicants, but that he himself has submitted a public records request for state marijuana license information to find out exactly who wants to enter Maine’s adult-use market.

“I want to know how many Maine people are applying versus how many Wall Street companies,” Julia said. “It is very important for people to have those numbers. This is an important part of building this industry the right way.”

The Maine Craft Cannabis Association argued for a middle ground on public disclosure, urging the state to reveal the identities of those seeking licenses, and who is bankrolling them, but keep disclosable security and process information to generalities, like ingredient lists or underage sales prevention training.

Some of Maine’s medical marijuana dispensaries, like Wellness Connection and Maine Organic Therapy, support the department’s bill, which would exempt security, trade secret and standard operating procedures from the public records law. Some would like to add financial data to that list, too.

“The proposed amendment is not really about hiding information or veiling the market in secrecy,” said attorney Malina Dumas of Drummond Woodsum, who counts Maine Organic Therapy among its clients. “It’s about protecting an emergent industry from fraud and misuse of sensitive information.”

In a rare show of solidarity, the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, the state’s largest caregiver trade group, agreed with dispensary operators and supported the state’s proposed public records exemption. “That is a real issue,” board president Catherine Lewis told lawmakers.

In testimony, the Office of Marijuana Policy assured lawmakers that it planned to operate the new adult-use marijuana program as transparently as possible, but that public records exemptions are necessary to encourage operators to fully disclose all the details Maine needs to monitor the program. 

The state has asked its licensing software vendor to find a way to make basic licensing information public, such as business name, location and license type. It would probably exclude financial information until the legislature acts on L.D. 2091, according to spokesman David Heidrich.

But most of the public discussion at Monday’s hearing was centered around the state’s proposed classification of alcohol-based extractions as inherently dangerous, putting it in the same category as highly explosive butane or propane-based extractions.

“Please don’t take the people’s right to make their own medicine away from them,” asked Susan Meehan, a caregiver who moved to Maine in 2013 to help her daughter, Cyndimae, get access to pediatric cannabis. “This has been going on in Maine’s homes and our caregivers homes for years.”

Small caregiver operations and those who make their oils at home don’t have the $30,000 needed to perform inherently hazard extractions, Meehan said. The bill would wipe out 75 percent of Maine’s extraction industry and make oils, tinctures, salves and edibles too expensive for most Mainers.

Even one commercial extraction lab operator that would benefit from state’s proposed change said he thought the reclassification of alcohol-base extractions was state overreach. Jordan Smith, who owns two labs that can perform hazardous extractions, said it wasn’t necessary.

The state proposal to make changes to the Marijuana Legalization Act opened a door that Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, has waited for since 2018. Hickman has wanted to tweak the law since helping to write it, but was urged to wait so as not to delay the start of retail sales.

But on Monday, Hickman submitted a list of 10 amendments, ranging from sealing marijuana convictions to legalization of marijuana farmers markets, arguing that if the state can seek to improve the law, legislators should be able to, as well.

“Constituencies across the industry have reached out to ask that I stand up for what’s right,” he said. “We don’t seem to be willing to do the real work and have the tough discussions that can reset the trajectory of cannabis policy in Maine before it’s too late.”

The director of the Office of Marijuana Policy, Erik Gundersen, said many of Hickman’s proposals are worthy of future consideration, but they aren’t necessary right now, as the state is trying to launch an adult-use market approved by voters in November 2016.

“They are unnecessary and would further complicate (an) already complicated process,” he said. “What I can promise you is that after the program is launched, OMP will remain dedicated to engaging all stakeholders in bringing forward changes to better our program.”

 

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