Maine medical marijuana patients spent $221.8 million on cannabis products between January and November 2020 – more than sales from lobsters and potatoes. Sales totaled $111.6 million in 2019, the first year the state tracked sales in the 20-plus-year-old program.

Maine is fortunate to have a longstanding and, in many ways, well-designed medical marijuana program. Maine patients are medically approved to use cannabis to treat any condition for which a clinician feels the medicine might be useful, among them cancer, chronic pain and mental health and addiction issues.

Patients can grow their own medicine and/or access their products from over 3,000 caregivers or dispensaries across the state. Access to medicine in Maine is great, but do the patients driving this multimillion-dollar market know whether the medicine we’re purchasing is safe and efficacious? Not necessarily.

I and others I know have had experiences purchasing contaminated and mislabeled medicine. Medical cannabis providers in Maine are not required to test the products they sell. Cannabis can contain any number of problematic substances, from pesticides and metals to allergens like powdery mildew. This is why testing is required in the developing adult use (recreational marijuana) market. In fact, the state had to delay the launch of the adult use marijuana market until at least one laboratory received required state and local authorizations to test adult use marijuana. The regulators could not allow the adult use market to open without the implementation of this key consumer protection measure.

Yes, you read that correctly: State law offers more safety protections to people looking to use cannabis for recreational purposes than to patients. This contradiction undermines the safety of our great medical program. Rep. Patricia Hymanson is proposing legislation that would mandate testing of medical marijuana, and the draft of the new medical marijuana regulations includes packaging and labeling requirements – such as ingredient lists, warning labels and other basic consumer protections that are not available to patients but are required for adult use products.

During past legislative attempts to mandate testing, caregivers often referred to the lack of laboratories available and the cost of testing. However, Maine is slated to have four or more labs operational in 2021, making such testing more accessible and less costly. Patients deserve tested products that meet basic labeling and packaging standards, and we will need to be proactive about improving and maintaining our separate access as the adult use market continues to grow.

So how can patients get more involved in the discussions on these important issues?

I recently had a conversation with staff at the state Office of Marijuana Policy, and they welcome patient input as part of their effort to oversee and further shape Maine’s medical marijuana program. They are also a resource regarding patients’ rights and access, and they can be reached at (207) 287-3282 or at maine.gov/dafs/omp/home.

I also hope more patients will feel empowered to participate in some of the relevant discussions before the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. The committee will hold public hearings on all of the marijuana-related bills this session. There will also be a comment period on the new proposed medical marijuana regulations issued by the agency later this winter or early spring, and patients will have an opportunity to speak at the hearing and/or provide written comments as part of the formal rulemaking process.

Maine’s medical marijuana program exists for us patients, and we’re often members of vulnerable populations – older Mainers, veterans, the financially compromised, people with mental illness and even children.

Program standards should protect those vulnerabilities, and all patients should feel confident about the medical products they consume here in Maine. To that end, Mainecannabisconsumers.com created a Politics and Policy section, where policy and legislative concerns can be shared. Upcoming posts will include information about how to participate in hearings while access to the Legislature is limited during COVID-19 restrictions, as well as updates about specific proposed bills.

Legislators and Office of Marijuana Policy staff members hear from industry participants regularly, but I hope more Maine patients will add their voices to the mix. For the most part, our program is patient-oriented and better than those in other states. It’s up to us, though, to insist on safety measures and improvements that can make it unequivocally the best.


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