BREWER, Maine — A gathering held Wednesday to educate people about amendments to the state’s medical marijuana statute that become law next month brought together a number of people interested in becoming caregivers — those who grow medicinal marijuana for up to five patients.
They asked questions like, “If I’m growing for a family member, do I have to register?”
“Where do I legally buy” marijuana seeds?
“How do I get into contact with patients?”
“We’re a husband and wife team. Can we share 10 patients?”
“Do I have to pay taxes?”
Members of Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, a nonprofit trade association, spoke to about 40 people at the Eastern Maine Labor Council, explaining changes that go into effect under LD 1296, “An Act to Amend the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Act To Protect Patient Privacy,” which was signed by Gov. Paul LePage on June 24 and becomes state law at the end of September.
The amended law makes a bunch of big changes — doing away with mandatory state registration for medical marijuana users, eliminating requirements that patients disclose their medical condition, allowing outside cultivation for those who grow their own, and adding provisions that protect patients from search, seizure and prosecution.
Panel members Hillary Lister, Jake McLure, and Paul McCarrier, who are all Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine members, explained the law’s changes.
Maine voters first approved the use of medical marijuana in 1999, and in November 2009 expanded the law to include more medical conditions and the creation of nonprofit, government-sanctioned clinics and marijuana cultivation centers. The recent amendments modify the 2009 rules.
Marijuana is illegal under federal law, but 16 states, including Maine, and the District of Columbia have laws making it legal for medical use.
Qualifying patients who opt not to register with the state must have a physician provide a written certification on tamper-resistant paper, said McCarrier, adding that it also must have the name and contact information for the doctor.
The amended law also makes registration optional for some primary caregivers — those who grow medical marijuana for members of the same household or family.
A mother and her grown son from Dover-Foxcroft, who asked not to be identified because of the stigma of the drug, said after the meeting ended that they have a sick family member who will soon need a caregiver.
“I don’t consume marijuana at all and never have,” the man said. “I was kind of against it but once I got to know people who are using it for medical reasons — it persuaded me.”
A couple from the midcoast, who also asked not to identify themselves, said they attended the meeting to learn about how to become a provider for patients.
“I drove 110 miles to get here tonight,” the man said. “My farm is in foreclosure and I’m looking for a way out. If we can help patients and our farm, that would be great.”
After reading up on the amended law and gathering more information at the meeting, the man said “we are absolutely doing it.”
The goal of the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine is to educate the people about the law so they can provide locally grown medicine to qualified patients, said McLure.
“We’re taking care of the patients of Maine,” he said. “It’s a cottage industry and is starting to revitalise the small farms here in Maine. It’s definitely stimulating the local economy in ways we are just beginning to see.”
The answers to the questions posed during the meeting and listed at the beginning of this story are listed below:
• “If you’re a caregiver for family members or household members, then you don’t need” to register as a caregiver, McLure said, adding all others must register with the state and all caregivers should have a written contract with their patients. A form letter for those contracts will be provided by the Department of Health and Human Services, he said.
• Marijuana seeds “can be donated to you from a patient,” McCarrier said.
• Connection patients and caregivers is done through patient referrals through the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, McLure said.
“We don’t guarantee” a connection, but “we get about a patient a day calling in asking to be connected to a caregiver,” he said.
• The husband and wife who plan to be caregivers with 5 qualified patients each should be able to grow their plants together, McLure said, adding that a lot of details still need to be ironed out.
• “There is a mandatory 5 percent sales tax,” that must be collected by caregivers, McLure said.
Those who would like to learn more about the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine can go to their website, mmcmonline.org.
The group will be out educating people at the Green Love Festival, on Harry Brown’s Farm in Starks this weekend, will host a informational meeting 5 p.m. Monday, Aug. 15, at the Washington town office and will participate in the Homegrown Maine trade show Nov. 5-6 at the Augusta Civic Center.