With the transition to a recreational (adult use) marijuana program in Maine, a flavor of ice cream comes to mind — Rocky Road.
The number of sides to this process resemble a dice from Dungeons and Dragons – multi-faceted and each one influencing the outcome. We have the legislative component, the medical one, the legal one, the business one, and the users themselves all with a stake in the cannabis market. That said, each facet has a different version of success.
As a caregiver and as a licensed processor in Oregon, I have lived through the medical programs in two states (Maine and Oregon) and one transition from medical to recreational in Oregon. The transition cost many licensed medical marijuana businesses to the point of not being in business anymore. Many couldn’t afford the carry coast associated with navigating through a licensing process and supporting two locations since medical and recreational must be separate. There were the licensing fees – each license type cost over $4,000 just for the license. Then the fees for background checks, legal fees for setting up entities, the costs related to compliance – containers, labels, and a set of rules for labels that literally changed weekly. The big issue was testing, and more than a year into the transition, the testing rules are STILL being figured out, and the cost of testing, as a result, is sky high. One business owner I spoke to recently told me that he can’t bring his product to market because it will cost him $12,000 to test $10,000 worth of product the way the rules are written. That’s not successful in the business world. He went on to say that marijuana is more tested than 90% of the food supply. Let that sink in – the Government is more concerned with testing the health of a plant that is not required to sustain human life, but allows levels of unhealthy compounds hundreds to thousands of times higher to be consumed on a daily basis that is required to sustain human life. It continues to point out the absence of logic when making laws, buts that a much longer discussion for another day. The transition is expensive and many caregivers are not capitalized, nor do they have the expertise or willingness to navigate the road ahead.
There is much discussion going on about who should administer the rollout of licensing, and ultimately enforcement. After living through the transition in Oregon, I can say I will lean towards any state agency that has the experience of tracking every ounce of alcohol that enters, is transported and consumed in the state. Not just in Maine. The reasoning is simple — they have the people, the systems, the checks, and balances to implement and enforce the program. Maine and Oregon are both liquor control states meaning there are specific agencies dedicated to tracking the liquor that enters and is ultimately sold in the state. This matters to lawmakers and businesses alike because the agencies license establishments, inspect establishments, and enforce the rules to ensure the tax revenue is collected, that the supply is safe, and distribution is secure. It is regulated, and everyone who wants to legally sell liquor has the same set of rules to comply with. Initially, this is burdensome for businesses, but a regulated market means there is consistent safe access to products that the state benefits from in the form of taxes.
As for the medical program? The medical marijuana laws I have come to believe were stepping stones to introduce science into the moral and legal conundrum of the Schedule 1 status of marijuana. It allowed States and the Federal Government to save face in gradually admitting that marijuana is not as harmful as we were led to believe, and the medical programs helped to establish there was scientific evidence as to the medical benefits of the plant. When State treasuries started seeing the tax revenues flow in faster than a casino that never paid a jackpot, the move to recreational programs made even more sense.
I sincerely hope that Maine leads the nation is learning from other states who have gone before us. Take what works, eliminate what doesn’t, and let businesses start, grow and thrive. Call it what you will, marijuana’s medicinal benefits are well documented, whether you’re using it for medical reasons or recreational ones. It’s like ice cream – whatever flavor you like, and for whatever reason you eat it ice cream, it’s still pretty good. Even if it is a Rocky Road.
Mark MacAuley is a marijuana professional who splits his time between Maine and Oregon making medicinal and recreational non-intoxicating cannabis products under the KUSA brand. He is a registered caregiver in Maine and a licensed recreational processor in Oregon.