Maine lawmakers passed a far-reaching rewrite of the state’s medical marijuana program this week, replacing qualifying conditions with doctors’ discretion, expanding the number of allowed dispensaries, and allowing home-based caregivers to grow their businesses. “There is going to be a single set of rules if someone wants to set up a marijuana store.”
In addition to opening medical marijuana access to anyone whose doctor recommends it, regardless of ailment, the MMJ rewrite will allow for six new dispensaries to open over the next three years, pushing the total number of state-sanctioned pot shops to 14. Facing increased competition from the state’s impending recreational industry, the new legislation would also allow medical marijuana businesses to shed their nonprofit status and compete in an open market.
Piling on even more radical shifts to Maine’s medical industry, the bill would also allow individual caregivers – medical marijuana providers distributing homegrown bud without a dispensary – to expand their businesses by hiring more employees and treating as many people as they can. Currently, non-dispensary caregivers are restricted to serve five patients max and have one employee at any given time.
But while all of those changes would move to expand Maine’s marijuana industry, the newly-approved bill also features a number of restrictive protocols, most notably increased municipal power to restrict cannabis business and heightened state oversight of home caregivers. As the law currently stands, licensed operators can settle freely in any municipality that hasn’t explicitly banned cannabusiness. If passed, local governments would have to explicitly welcome marijuana businesses before a dispensary or grow site could open.
For home-based caregivers, the expanded access would come with scrutiny from state authorities, who would be allowed to make unannounced home inspections whenever they please. Still, Maine medical marijuana advocates say the positives of the bill outweigh any negatives that may come from big brother’s prying eyes. “They gain the ability to hire the staff they need, to wholesale a portion of product grown when needed, access to processors that specialize, and clarity around the inspection process.”
With approval from both the state Senate and House of Representatives, Gov. LePage now has 10 days to either approve or veto the medical marijuana bill.