The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Rep. Patty Hymanson, a doctor, represents District 44 in the Maine House of Representatives. She is the former House chair of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Health and Human Services. Roger Katz is an attorney and former four-term state senator who served as the Senate chair of the Joint Select Committee on Marijuana Legalization Implementation.
Maine has been at the forefront of marijuana policy for decades. In 1999, Maine voters first approved the possession and use of medical marijuana. Ten years later, Maine voters established the first legal distribution mechanism. Then, in 2016, we joined regulatory trailblazers like Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon in legalizing adult-use marijuana.
Maine’s adult-use program, which began retail sales six months ago, is the gold standard to which any other state can look to develop and implement a system to provide interested consumers with access to marijuana. Legislators here spent two years seeking to learn from the best and brightest in this emerging field. The result was a regulatory system that received overwhelming bipartisan support because it was designed to work for all interested stakeholders — public health, public safety, municipalities, industry and voters alike.
In our state’s medical marijuana program, we have caregivers who are individuals registered with the state to grow, manufacture and sell marijuana to certified patients. These caregivers were recently empowered to operate retail storefronts and serve an unlimited number of patients.
The Legislature also supported other changes, which have further commercialized the medical program, understanding that retail sales of adult-use marijuana was on the horizon. For example, caregivers may now cultivate and harvest larger quantities, sell marijuana wholesale to other registrants and hire an unlimited number of assistants.
In exchange for these reforms came the need for some degree of regulatory oversight of the state’s medical program. The Legislature understood that and mandated certain requirements such as inventory tracking, packaging and labeling standards and local authorization by each municipality.
Critically, caregivers in the medical marijuana industry have been permitted to immediately benefit personally, professionally and financially from these statutory changes while awaiting the state’s marijuana regulator to implement these important new oversight measures.
Inventory tracking, or “seed-to-sale tracking” as it is commonly known, is important for several reasons, not the least of which is helping Maine avoid undue federal scrutiny as we license and regulate two industries centered around what remains a federally controlled substance. In addition to preventing diversion or inversion, inventory tracking simplifies product recalls, documents the chain of custody and ensures proper accounting of tax revenue. It also provides important public health data to regulators and lawmakers hoping to make informed, data-driven policy decisions.
Taken in concert with new standards for packaging and labeling, which mandate ingredient lists, potency data and other information commonly found on consumer product labels, we will ensure that the marijuana that reaches the consumer is safe and accountable.
Regrettably, our state right now lacks any data about the inventory on the shelves of Maine’s medical establishments, including key metrics such as volume, products and pricing trends already available in the adult-use program. Under new proposed rules, regulators will be able to isolate contaminated products and public health experts will have access to near real-time data on whether patient purchasing patterns change to better understand the effectiveness of their health education efforts.
These commonsense standards and more are already required by law and are currently being implemented via rulemaking by the Office of Marijuana Policy. Despite this, some stakeholders and lawmakers have proposed delaying or postponing this critical work. To do so would be a mistake.
The Legislature has dedicated years of effort to considering cannabis policy in our state. In every instance, the decisions made have been with the public’s health and safety in mind. As with any evolving industry, we should remain flexible moving forward. However, lawmakers should understand that the forthcoming oversight measures are part of a much-needed upgrade for medical cannabis in Maine.
Implementation of these long-overdue measures will allow both of our state’s marijuana programs to serve as models for states that choose legalization in the years to come. Maine can have a medical marijuana program that is regulated, has high standards for protecting public health and community safety and maintains patient access. We just need to give them a chance.