Maine Officials Set Goal Date for Start of Recreational Marijuana Sales

So far, Maine’s plan for an adult-use marketplace hasn’t won favor with medical caregivers and eager entrepreneurs.
Maine Officials Set Goal Date for Start of Recreational Marijuana Sales

Maine, a state that legalized recreational marijuana in 2016, still doesn’t have a commercial marketplace for cannabis. But regulators say they at least have a plan for what that marketplace will look like, one they hope to have up and running by spring 2020. Maine’s medical cannabis industry operators and entrepreneurs eager to get a foothold in the consumer market aren’t too pleased with the draft rules, however. They say onerous requirements put small local producers at a major disadvantage and pave the way for a takeover by large cannabis corporations.

Maine’s Proposed Regulations Could Crush Craft Cannabis, Critics Say

A month ago, in late April, Maine’s Office of Marijuana Policy unveiled their draft plan of a regulatory structure to govern a commercial cannabis industry. The 74-page rulebook gave Maine residents their first real glimpse at what recreational marijuana sales might look like. The Office of Marijuana Policy worked “at a breakneck pace to complete the work necessary to establish the regulatory and licensing regime that will govern adult-use marijuana,” said director Erik Gundersen. The goal was to deliver a final draft of the proposed rules to the Maine Legislature before they wrap up their first regular session this June.

But the Office of Marijuana Policy also wanted to give the public time to provide feedback on the draft rules. The idea was to give consumers, prospective workers and business owners a chance to help shape Maine’s retail industry. So regulators held a public hearing Thursday and invited testimony and feedback on the rules. And so far, that feedback has ranged from mixed to downright critical.

The public hearing attracted over 100 people to downtown Portland. And the major criticism that emerged was that Maine’s proposed regulations would crush small, “craft” cannabis producers and small-business retailers.

Caregivers Warn of Corporate Takeover

One medical cannabis retailer, Joseph Baker of Orrington, blasted what he called the “platitudes” coming out of the regulatory committee.

“You claim to want to protect craft cannabis. Who do you think craft cannabis is? It’s the caregivers,” Baker said.

With no major commercial industry in place, Maine’s medical cannabis providers are largely small-scale caregivers. But Baker says the new rules put caregiver operators at a competitive disadvantage, especially if larger corporate producers set up shop in Maine.

Caregiver Arleigh Kraus agreed with Baker during the hearing. “If most of these proposals pass, growers and caregivers and shop owners are signing their death sentence,” Kraus told regulators. Krause highlighted how large corporate operators could easily absorb proposed fines for rules violations, while small growers would not be able to do the same.

Attorney Hannah King with Maine Professionals for Regulating Marijuana put forward yet another criticism. She said that the proposed licensing requirements require business to publicly disclose too much information about their operation, putting smaller businesses at yet another strategic disadvantage. “Including required disclosures of operating agreements, management contracts, branding agreement and the like” would reveal the “trade secrets” of niche businesses.

Maine Legislature to Vote on Draft Regulations in June

Ultimately, it comes down to a vision of what Maine’s adult-use market should look like. Maine’s Office of Marijuana Policy says its draft rules protect public health and create an even playing field for businesses of all sizes. Small business owners and entrepreneurs eager to move into the craft cannabis market say otherwise.

Regulators still have time to modify the rulebook after the public comment period closes June 2. Then, it will be up to Maine lawmakers to ratify the rules with a vote later in June. But even if lawmakers approve the regulations, recreational sales still won’t begin until early-mid 2020.

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