Medical marijuana providers want a greater say in how their industry is regulated.

In over nine hours of public testimony concerning six different bills Friday, providers, known as caregivers in the industry, along with patients and other industry participants, asked the Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs for a seat at the table when rules are proposed and other protections against over-burdensome program changes.

But some also said they had concerns about public health and safety and advocated for mandatory testing, which currently is only required in the adult-use market.

Co-sponsored by Rep. Lynne Williams, D-Bar Harbor, and Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Aroostook, L.D. 1242 would place a moratorium on a set of proposed rule changes to the medical program and require the state Office of Marijuana Policy to consult caregivers, patients, physicians and medical professionals with experience in the industry before making major changes.

In January, the marijuana policy office released a preliminary draft of rule changes to the medical program that officials said were “meant to align the program with state law” governing the recreational market.

Among other proposals, the updated rules would require all registered medical cannabis caregivers, dispensaries and manufacturing facilities to implement a “seed-to-sale,” or “track-and-trace” system used in the adult-use program, as well as strict security measures, including 24-hour camera surveillance and an alarm system. Surveillance data would have to be stored for 30 days.

Caregivers worry that those requirements and other new rules would be too expensive for them to stay in business.

“We need a seat at the table,” said Dillon Reynolds, a caregiver who operates a 300-square foot “micro-grow.” 

“Over-regulation is something that I cannot compete with. I lose sleep over this at night,” he said. “We need someone speaking for us.” 

The bill would require new rules governing the medical market to be approved by the Legislature, Williams has said.

It would provide “a solution to a nightmare of a draft rule that (the state Office of Marijuana Policy) is trying to move forward with,” said Brett Messer, a Biddeford caregiver and hemp producer. 

He criticized what he called a “copy and paste scheme” designed to make the medical program mirror the recently opened adult-use market and asked the Legislature to “put the brakes” on the changes.

L.D. 1242 would be effective retroactively, meaning that any changes made after Jan. 1, 2018, that are considered “major substantive” would be voided, and officials would have to go before the Legislature to get them approved. 

“We want to hit the reset button and we want to defend our successful program,” said Eben Sumner, a founding member of the Maine Growers Alliance and owner of Casco Bay Hemp. 

Not everyone supported the proposal. 

Gillian Schauer, a national public health expert at the University of Washington, said the bill would “undermine attempts to promote public health and safety” in the state. 

“Strong regulation is important,” she said, adding that a product being used as medicine should be regulated at least as much as the adult-use market, if not more. 

“We do not wait for other medicines to cause harm before instituting safeguards,” she said. 

Denny St. Pierre, a patient, said he has experienced firsthand problems stemming from lack of regulatory oversight. He purchased what he believed was cannabidiol (CBD) for his girlfriend’s mother, he said, only to find it was actually concentrated Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active and intoxicating element of marijuana. 

“I’m appalled with some of the caregivers in this community who are more concerned with profits than keeping patients safe,” St. Pierre said. “Let’s not forget this is supposed to be a medicine.” 

The committee also heard testimony on two bills that would require that medical marijuana be tested, currently only mandated for adult-use products. 

L.D. 1445, proposed by Rep. Patty Hymanson, D-York, would require medical caregivers to test all harvested marijuana for a panel of harmful contaminants, determined by the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, prior to sale or distribution. The testing facility would be required to notify the department if a sample fails any test. 

L.D. 1249, proposed by Rep. Joseph Perry, D-Bangor, is intended to be more efficient and cost-effective. It would require testing only prior to the sale of a product to consumers, rather than at each stage of the process. It also would allow marijuana that exceeds the maximum level of allowable contamination to be remediated and retested until it is deemed safe. 

In effect, current law would have growers and processors test the same cannabis over and over again as it makes its way through processing – adding excessive expense along the way,” Perry said in written testimony. “The truth is that as long as marijuana is tested once before it is consumed, the safety of the consumer is assured. Any testing beyond that should be a commercial decision.”

While some caregivers expressed a preference for Perry’s bill over L.D. 1445, neither had unanimous support.

Caregivers stressed they are not opposed to testing – Amber Patterson believes it is needed “100 percent, across the board” – but said the measures would be impractical.

With only two licensed testing labs and more than 3,000 registered caregivers, the state lacks the proper infrastructure to avoid product shortages and bottlenecks, Patterson said.

Arleigh Krauss, a caregiver in Warren, voluntarily tests her products but said different labs have given her different results. Before Maine implements mandatory testing, a standardized lab methodology must be created, she said.

Other bills heard Friday included L.D. 1319, introduced by Sen. Matthew Pouliot, R-Kennebec, which would reinstate a cap on the number of medical dispensaries allowed in Maine. The bill would limit the number to 14 and require that any new registrant (there are already eight licensed dispensaries) have been a Maine resident for at least four years. This requirement would be in effect until 2025. 

L.D. 1434, also proposed by Perry, would allow marijuana stores to have a controlled, indoor entry area where security can check identification and the shopper can wait inside instead of requiring verification outside the building. 

Rep. Colleen Madigan, D-Waterville, introduced L.D. 1452, which would amend the marijuana advertising laws and require licensees to seek a certificate of approval for ads. If a business violated those rules, the licensee could appeal in Superior Court, and continue operating without license suspension while the appeal was pending. If the court upheld the decision, the licensee would have 15 days from the date of the decision to remedy the violation without any fines or penalties. 

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