September 17, 2019
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Marijuana legalization can build on Maine’s medical cannabis model

George Danby | BDN
George Danby | BDN

Recent news of an agreement between dueling citizens’ initiative groups to legalize cannabis came as a relief to many who wish to see legalized adult use become a reality in Maine.

Two competing initiatives ran the risk of confusing voters, possibly sinking efforts and thereby delaying legalization in Maine. With 65 percent of likely Maine voters in favor of legal adult cannabis, according to a Critical Insights poll released earlier this year, the new, unified front bodes well for a strong campaign and success on Election Day 2016.

Should voters indeed approve legal adult use in November 2016, there will be a rulemaking process in the first half of 2017. This process will develop the regulations and standards to govern the new program.

While some segments of the current medical cannabis market have in the past resisted regulatory oversight, any medical cannabis provider who wishes to transition into the legal market will have to be comfortable with it.

Consider that the newly unified proponent group kept the name Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, or CRMLA. This sends a strong message about the group’s intent, and voters will expect them to live up to the implicit promise in their name.

In the Critical Insights poll cited above, 79 percent of likely voters said if cannabis is legalized, it should be provided via a “licensed and regulated” system. In order for legalization to succeed, proponents must accept that regulatory oversight is necessary, not only to benefit consumers but also for voters to feel confident they made the right choice.

The initiative does provide a licensing preference for existing medical cannabis dispensaries and those caregivers who can demonstrate they have operated responsibly, should they choose to enter the retail market.

The eight dispensaries have years of experience meeting regulatory demands around inventory control, consumer education and safe practices. There are about 2,100 caregivers around the state, some number of whom self-regulate using some of the same standards to which dispensaries are held, even in the absence of clear rules requiring that. Together we offer Maine a solid scaffolding upon which to frame an expanded, adult-use program.

So, by all means, let’s celebrate the unification of the two legalization efforts, sign the petition when we see signature gatherers and vote yes to legalize cannabis in Maine in November 2016.

But voters can’t let their attention wane once the voting is done.

If legal adult use is to be a success for all Maine residents, the entire industry must embrace sensible inventory control and other regulations. And those who will be tasked with implementing the new adult-use program should look to the regulated, responsible members of the existing medical cannabis system as a model.

Becky DeKeuster is executive director of Wellness Connection of Maine, which operates four of Maine’s eight licensed, nonprofit medical cannabis dispensaries.

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