Medical marijuana: Hundreds in Maine apply to grow, state program takes in more than $600,000 in fees

A marijuana starter plant is for sale at a medical marijuana dispensary in Seattle, Washington, in this November 20, 2012 file photo.
ANTHONY BOLANTE | REUTERS
A marijuana starter plant is for sale at a medical marijuana dispensary in Seattle, Washington, in this November 20, 2012 file photo.
Posted Aug. 24, 2013, at 6:23 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — An annual report by the Department of Health and Human Services released Thursday shows the medical marijuana program has been growing in Maine and is in the midst of a reorganization.

Some 575 people applied to the state last year to grow medical marijuana — 521 of those new applications. The state’s eight medical marijuana dispensaries employed 84 people.

The Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Program took in $612,370 in fees and spent considerably less: $466,028.

The report was due to the Legislature in April, by statute. DHHS spokesman John Martins said it had been held up by staff changes and the review process.

Maine has allowed the use of medical marijuana since 1999 on a grow-your-own basis and set up the current nonprofit dispensary system with a second statewide referendum in 2009.

Though there are no hard figures, it’s estimated 13,000 patients use it here.

Last year, Cumberland County had the highest number of medical marijuana patients voluntarily register with the state (255), followed by Kennebec (238), York (230) and Androscoggin (123).

Cumberland County also had the most physicians with 14 writing patient certifications for medicinal marijuana. Sixty-eight doctors across the state wrote at least one.

The report mentions a statewide conference this year that includes physicians and law enforcement, but Martins said it hadn’t been planned yet.

Also included:

–1,455 patients have voluntarily registered with the state; 1,311 patients asked someone to grow medicinal marijuana on their behalf.

–The number of employees ranged from 45 at the Wellness Connections’ four dispensaries to seven at Safe Alternatives in Frenchville.

–Safe Alternatives had the largest board of directors at eight; Remedy Compassion Center in Auburn the smallest at two.

As of Friday, Remedy had three directors, Martins said. “Program rules are specific about who can be a board member, but lack specificity on the size of a particular board.”

The report mentions reorganizing the program with goals such as new, clearer forms, returning calls in two business days and processing paperwork in a “timely fashion.” The office has three dedicated staff members, Martins said.

The 2011 program report had highlighted legal challenges around medical marijuana growers, mentioning that “inspection of caregiver grower locations has not yet been scheduled due to the newness of the program.”

More than a year later, that hasn’t changed.

“We are still working through these legal challenges regarding this issue and we have not yet begun this process,” Martins said.

David Boyer, Maine political director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said he thought the new report showed the system working.

“Revenues are more than adequately covering the costs of administering the program,” he said. “Most importantly, the state is meeting the needs of the patients these laws were intended to help. Regulating marijuana works.”

 

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