A cannabis plant in an inside grow room at Windhill Organics, a medical marijuana grow business run by Arleigh Kraus. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer, file

The agency regulating the sale of medical cannabis in Maine believes the results of a new study are the missing evidence needed to overhaul the program and institute a set of requirements that industry participants have opposed in the past.

John Hudak, director of the Maine Office of Cannabis Policy, is hopeful that the department’s study, which tested medical cannabis products for mold and pesticides, will push the Legislature to create a medical cannabis testing mandate similar to the one in the recreational market.

However, cultivators and caregivers – the industry term for medical cannabis providers – have criticized the study for its small sample size, its conclusions and its methods, calling it “intellectually dishonest.”

The Maine Office of Cannabis Policy collected 127 samples of medical cannabis this summer during inspections and ran them through the same testing process required in the recreational-use program. Of the 127 samples, 57 – or about 45% – failed, meaning they contained at least one banned material or substance.

The report, released a little more than a week ago, comes about two months after the department released the preliminary results during a webinar with stakeholders.

The failed samples most commonly contained varying levels of myclobutanil, also known as Eagle 20, piperonyl butoxide, bifenthrin, bifenazate and/or imidacloprid, all of which can cause mild to severe health issues in humans.


Hudak said these results are the “data and reality-based analysis” that have been missing from previous conversations surrounding mandatory testing and a track-and-trace program that would allow officials to trace any sort of outbreak or contaminant back to the source. He said testing is crucial to keeping medical cannabis patients safe.

The Maine Office of Cannabis Policy has previously pushed such requirements, but the proposal was met with outcry from industry members who argued that the requirements would be onerous and costly, forcing them to either close up shop or push price increases onto consumers.

Following a 2022 law, any major substantive rulemaking from the department must be approved by the Legislature, and the Office of Cannabis Policy has not officially proposed a testing requirement since.

But Hudak said that’s likely to change, and it could be soon.

The upcoming legislative session is shorter but has a handful of cannabis-related bills that he said have no language – they are essentially placeholders and could be used to introduce new rules.

“(The medical program) needs a massive statutory overhaul,” Hudak said. “We need stakeholders and legislators ready and willing to come to the table to talk about the deficiencies and weaknesses.”


And even if it’s too late for this session, “you can bet the department is going to be looking at this in future sessions,” he said.

As it stands, the Office of Cannabis Policy is limited in regulating the medical cannabis program. Unlike in the recreational-use market, if there’s a problem or they discover contamination, officials have no power to enforce a product hold or order product destruction. Certain privacy restrictions also prevent the office from telling the public which companies failed tests.


Mark Barnett, co-founder of the Maine Craft Cannabis Association and owner of Higher Grounds in Portland, questioned both the study’s methodology and its conclusion.

“The conclusion was so intense: Most medical patients are in danger. There were absolutely zero data points of negative patient outcomes,” he said. “It’s approaching cannabis as if it’s dangerous from the get-go.”

Arleigh Kraus stands in one of the grow rooms for her medical marijuana business at her farm in Warren on July 19, 2022. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer, file

Arleigh Kraus, owner of Windhill Organics, a Warren-based caregiver retail store, also pushed back against the implication that the medical cannabis market is putting patients at risk and said the sample size was too small to draw any solid conclusions. 


“I don’t believe there’s a fire,” she said. “The medical program has been successfully operating in this state for close to two decades. It’s a very safe program.”

Kraus works with Seed2Health, a Maine-based cannabis health research collaborative looking at subjects including testing, patient health and plant health.

Testing is important, she said. Immunocompromised patients deserve to know what’s in the cannabis they’re using as medicine. But it shouldn’t be a requirement, she said, especially until there are stricter lab standards.

“We need tests that mean something,” Kraus said, suggesting that clearer labeling about whether a product has been tested could be a compromise.

Hudak, though, said it’s inaccurate to claim that the testing isn’t reliable. All the state labs go through a rigorous CDC recertification process annually and operate according to national and international standards of practice.

Despite industry criticism of the small sample size, Hudak said the department has no plans for additional testing.


“I don’t think we need to do more testing to demonstrate those results,” he said. “What we need is action, what we need is policy.”

Barnett is hopeful that the legislature, which has supported the growers and providers in the past, won’t be swayed by the test results.

Rep. David Boyer, R-Poland, former political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, likened the study to “reefer madness 2.0” and said he didn’t believe the legislature would have an appetite for a program overhaul.

There aren’t any bills expressly proposing changes to the program, but Boyer said he’s “expecting a surprise” following the study’s release last week. 

But he doesn’t think there’s any real threat to the medical cannabis industry, at least not from the Legislature. 

“That’s dead on arrival,” he said.


A variety of cannabis strains are on display in June 2022 at a medical marijuana store in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal, file


The discussion over bringing testing into the medical cannabis market comes as providers are leaving the industry in droves. The number of registered caregivers in Maine peaked at about 3,250 in 2016 and still topped 3,000 in 2021. Last year, though, the department reported a “mass exodus” within the industry when the number dropped to about 2,275. And more have left since. Last month, there were just shy of 1,800 medical caregivers in the state serving 106,000 medical card holders.

Maine’s medical cannabis market brought in about $305 million last year, a 16% drop from the record-breaking $365 million in 2021. The nascent recreational market, meanwhile, brought in about $159 million in 2022. The adult-use market is gaining steam and if current trends hold, it could expect to close out the year with roughly $215 million in sales.

The Office of Cannabis Policy has largely blamed the dwindling number of caregivers on market saturation, but industry members and caregivers also point to constant regulatory threats, high costs of doing business (the inability to get loans from banks and sky-high utility costs chief among them) and continued competition with the recreational market.

Whether a testing mandate is brought forward this session or in a future one, Kraus said it will only drive more business owners to close.

“It’s almost impossible to survive in the market right now,” she said. “We’re really in a pickle.”

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