Maine Lawmakers Seek to Implement Privacy Provisions for Marijuana Businesses

Proponents of the new bill say that the Freedom of Access Act unintentionally gives power to competitors.
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Maine lawmakers will consider a proposal to provide a cloak of secrecy over the state’s forthcoming recreational marijuana industry. 

The bill, L.D. 2091, which was authored by state regulators, would exempt trade secrets, security and operating procedures that cannabis businesses provided to the state from public records law. 

The state contends that the legislation would enshrine protections for a marijuana company’s proprietary information, such as a recipe for a weed edible. 

David Heidrich, a spokesman for the state’s Office of Marijuana Policy, which drafted L.D. 2091, said that it will be up to the legislature to determine “whether the benefits of an exemption outweigh the inability for public review.”

“In the view of the Office of Marijuana Policy, our proposal meets this high threshold,” Heidrich told the Portland Press Herald.

The bill explicitly aims to amend “the Freedom of Access Act to exclude from the definition of ‘public record’ application materials provided to the office of marijuana policy regarding security, trade secrets and standard operating procedures.”

L.D. 2091 is drawing criticism from public records advocates and journalists. The Maine Press Association, representing all of the state’s daily papers, is opposed to the bill. Matt Warner, a lawyer in the state, said that the Freedom of Access Act has been wielded “as a weapon between competitors” in Maine’s legal weed marketplace.

“This is an unintended consequence of an important basic public right,” Warner told the Press Herald.

Maine voters approved a measure legalizing recreational marijuana in 2016. Cannabis businesses are expected to open their doors to customers sometime this spring.

In December, the state began accepting applications for adult use cannabis sales licenses, as well as applications for the cultivation and manufacture of marijuana. Since getting the green light from voters more than three years ago, the new marijuana law has been beset by a number of delays, most of which which were imposed by former Maine Gov. Paul LePage, who blocked legislation to regulate the marijuana industry. 

In 2017, LePage vetoed a bill to move ahead with legalization.

““The dangers of legalizing marijuana and normalizing its use in our society cannot be understated,” LePage said in his veto letter at the time. “Maine is now battling a horrific drug epidemic that claims more than one life a day due to overdoses caused by deadly opiates. Sending a message, especially to our young people, that some drugs that are still illegal under federal law are now sanctioned by the state may have unintended and grave consequences.”

But in 2018, the state elected a new governor, Janet Mills, who finally helped usher cannabis reform along. In June, Mills signed a bill that established rules over the sale of recreational marijuana.

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