AUGUSTA, Maine — Just as doctors and pharmacists have done, Maine medical marijuana caregivers are forming a trade association to give them a unified voice in the state. But its members say it also will help to ensure good prices for the pain-easing drug and advocate for patients.
“We’re here first and foremost to advocate on behalf of peoples whose job this is,” Jonathan Leavitt, board chairman of Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, said Thursday. “We’re also here to guarantee that patients get the best prices, and that’s going to be done by forming real solid relationships with caregivers and helping them network to lower their prices.”
The announcement at the State House came a year after Maine voters expanded a decade-old medical marijuana law. The law set the stage for a formal system for obtaining the drug and authorized one dispensary for each of the state’s eight regional public health districts.
Maine also allows caregivers to provide one-on-one services to patients who suffer from chronic, painful illnesses and find relief in marijuana. About 100 of the roughly 500 caregivers in the state have banded together in the new trade association, Leavitt said.
Besides creating a setting for making patient referrals, Leavitt sees the association as a single voice to advocate for common interests. For example, its members see a need to drop a portion of the law that requires marijuana-treated patients to be registered with the state.
“We resent that,” said Leavitt, who noted that recipients of other medicines don’t have to be registered. He said there are now between 750 and 1,250 registered patients.
Caregivers also would like to be allowed to legally posses more than 2.5 ounces of marijuana.
The association provides caregivers with a network for exchanges of supplies of marijuana, which Leavitt said can help them to offer marijuana to patients for significantly less than the $350 to $400 per ounce he says some dispensaries charge.
Leo Trudel, executive director of Safe Alternatives, a dispensary in the northern Maine town of Frenchville, said his business charges $250 an ounce, although he acknowledged that prices are not cheap, due to quality assurance costs and the laws of supply and demand.
“Growing marijuana for medical use is not like growing tomatoes in your backyard,” Trudel said.
But caregivers see themselves as alternatives to dispensaries for patients, not competitors.
“Would I tell a patient not to use a dispensary? Absolutely not,” said Fred Kessler, a patient who suffers from Crohn’s disease and is on the board of the caregivers’ association.
Kessler, a former unsuccessful applicant to operate a dispensary in western Maine, sees a role for the caregivers association in establishing standards for the drug and self-policing in addition to working with state policymakers.