Politics & Other Mistakes: Down to seeds and stems again

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Even by the feeble standards usually employed to grade state government programs, this latest boondoggle lowers the bar until it’s dragging in the fertilizer. Far below the Department of Health and Human Services. Well short of the Department of Education. Makes the Department of Transportation look productive.

Maine’s adult-use retail cannabis program has set new standards for incompetence.

If you smoke enough, this disaster might appear funny. But as the statistics released last week show, you’re not smoking enough. Or if you are, you’re not buying it legally.

Lots of semi-seedy types sell marijuana on the black market at a sizable profit. No college degree required. No background checks. No licenses. Minimal horticultural competence is a plus. And you might want a gun. That’s about it.

Selling weed legally should have been almost as easy.

The state already has a medical marijuana program that’s working fine. Customers need a card from a doctor saying they have something or another wrong with them that ingesting the kind bud might help. Providers are limited in how many of those sort-of-sick people they can serve (wink, wink) and how many plants they can grow (nod, nod). The rules are loosely enforced, and everybody knows medical marijuana is just a thinly disguised variation on the good old black market.

Except for taxes.

Medical marijuana sales in 2019 totaled nearly $112 million, which produced about $7 million in tax revenue. Recreational pot was supposed to be a far more lucrative market producing a much greater bounty for state coffers.

Don’t count on it.

Adult-use ganja costs twice as much as the medical stuff and four times what you can find on the street. That’s because it’s massively overregulated and overtaxed. The potential buyers have already noticed the price disparity.

On the first weekend of legal sales in October, retail outlets grossed a quarter-million bucks. They never came close to doing that kind of action again. In the first full month of legality, the six stores with those difficult-to-obtain state licenses struggled to sell $1.4 million.

State officials blame the feeble numbers on supply problems. Except those issues are almost entirely due to delays in the state approving grow facilities and testing labs, as well as bureaucratic muddle-headedness. Neither the black market nor medical marijuana caregivers seem to have any shortage of product.

Also, state officials say, the pandemic probably cut into sales. Except the medical pot business has been averaging nearly $9.5 million in sales every month, COVID-19 or not. And my experts tell me illegal sales haven’t slacked off.

What do the people in charge have to say by way of explaining why the process isn’t going quite as they predicted? As you might expect, they’re attempting to deflect any criticism by focusing on, well, it’s hard to tell what they’re focusing on. But it’s certainly not the bottom line.

“While it is easy to focus solely on the numbers, it is important to note that the Office of Marijuana Policy’s primary objective is maintaining the high standard of public health and safety we have set for the adult-use program,” OMP Director Erik Gundersen said in a press release.

That wasn’t nearly enough smoke. Gundersen went on to say, “We appreciate the commitment our licensees have demonstrated to enact COVID protocols to ensure a safe launch and their continued commitment to these efforts in light of the recent spike in COVID cases in Maine.”

Yeah, it’s all that nasty coronavirus’ fault. Nobody wants to roll a fattie during a pandemic. You need your wits about you to remember to wear a mask and wash your hands. This is no time to be getting high.

So, let’s take a sober look at the situation. At a time when state revenues are tanking, taxes from pot sales could be helping to ease the pain. But the cumbersome system put in place by officials who don’t seem to have ever taken a puff has throttled the industry.

Fire one up, and fire these dolts.

Burned up? Email me at [email protected].

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