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The State of Medical Marijuana in Maine
2020 Grade: B+
2019-2020 Improvements and Recommendations
Maine’s medical cannabis program saw patient enrollment increase over the past year from 45,940 in 2019 to 65,368 in 202023. At 4.86%, Maine has the largest per capita representation of patients among the states which have legalized cannabis for adult-use. Maine’s preservation and expansion of the medical cannabis program after the legalization of adult-use is noteworthy, as states who organize medical cannabis programs often fail to make those programs fully functional to appropriately serve patients before pivoting to address adult-use measures.
2020 saw Maine open its adult-use program, with the first licensed dispensary conducting sales operations in July. COVID is expected to slow the rollout of adult-use dispensary licensing, as are local control laws that prevent qualified cannabis businesses from securing a license without local approval. Currently fewer than 10% of the state’s approximately 500 local governments have authorized cannabis retail licensing regimes.24
Under COVID Maine declared cannabis businesses essential and is allowing for telehealth visits to determine patient program eligibility. ASA recommends that Maine extend cannabis-related COVID emergency measures to permit curbside pickup and delivery, and consider making these program enhancements permanent to expand medical access, reduce cost burdens, and keep patients safe.
As Maine lawmakers look to 2021, ASA also encourages a focus on improvements in product safety standards and operating procedures. Proposals to test for potency, mold, as well as screening for pesticides, residual solvents, and other harmful chemicals like lead or mercury have been proposed in Augusta, but the regulations have yet to be finalized.25
In 1999, state voters enacted the Maine Medical Marijuana Act, which decriminalized use, possession and cultivation of cannabis at the state-level for patients who use medical cannabis on the advice of their physician for certain qualifying medical conditions. In 2002, Maine enacted SB 611, which increased the medical cannabis possession limit for eligible patients to 2.5 ounces. In 2009, the voters of Maine modified the 1999 Act with Question 5, which added several qualifying conditions and created a statewide distribution program and patient registry system. In 2012, the Maine legislature amended the law to provide better patient privacy by making registration with the state optional. In 2013, Maine enacted HP 755/LD 1062, which added PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions, and in 2016 Maine lawmakers approved LD 726, which authorized the operation of third party testing labs to ensure the safety of legal medical cannabis products sold in the state. Maine voters also approved an adult-use cannabis program in 2016 via statewide ballot initiative Question 1, but disagreements between then Governor LePage and the legislature delayed implementation. Maine has approved regulations that will allow physicians to diagnose conditions through telemedicine beginning in 2018.
In December of 2018, a medical cannabis omnibus bill (LD 1539) went into effect over Governor Lepage’s veto. The legislation eliminated the limited qualifying condition list that previously set forth eligibility for patients to obtain legal cannabis, opting to instead leave decisions about patient access to qualified physicians. The legislative package also eliminated the requirement that a patient designate a caregiver or particular dispensary to patronize, added two more dispensaries to the existing population of eight and lifted the cap on the total state number of dispensaries entirely in 2021. Language in the bills also authorizes caregivers to open storefront businesses and cultivate up to 30 flowering and 60 vegetative plants. Finally the combined measures removed restrictions on transferring of cannabis plants from another patient, caregiver or dispensary for no compensation, and allowed patients to possess up to eight pounds of harvested cannabis.
Also overriding the Governor’s veto in 2018 was legislation (LD 1719) outlining rules for the operation of a state-wide adult-use cannabis program. The legislation removed some components of the 2016 law approved by Maine voters, namely public consumption facilities and restrictions reducing the number of cannabis plants adults may own from six to three. Rules governing the operation of the adult-use system were promulgated in 2019, the same year that Governor Mills signed HP0395/LD 538, authorizing reciprocity for visiting out-of-state patients who are registered in their home state.
Surveyed patients report that medical cannabis products are still very expensive and keep many patients from being able to access the medicine.