The idea of “expanding the police state” as part of being a legal marijuana state was a trigger for many who testified before the Appropriations and Financial Affairs and Criminal Justice committees at the legislature Monday. The phrase and others like it came up frequently in public comments against the idea of adding four Maine Drug Enforcement Agency positions specific to policing marijuana.
The proposed positions are part of LR 3206, which are items in the supplemental budget and were presented by the Department of Public Safety. I was unable to attend but listened online as one person, Rep. Kent Ackley testified in favor of the positions, and more than 20 testified against them. Those testifying against included Rep. Craig Hickman, caregivers, patients, and representatives from trade and social activism coalitions.
An article from the Portland Press Herald also came up frequently. The article announced that medical marijuana sales in the last 11 months totaled 111.6 million in sales. The paywall kept me from accessing the article, so I can’t hyperlink to it without reviewing it first. Fortunately, social media was full of images, and I know enough of the backstory to work without it.
The backstory is, Maine hasn’t tracked medical marijuana sales for most of the twenty years the program has existed. Now that the state is tracking these numbers, the total is significant enough for policymakers to take the program more seriously. Many of those testifying questioned the need to bring Drug Enforcement into a successful market selling a now-legal substance.
Others suggested waiting until the adult recreational use market is up and running, which would enable policymakers to get a better handle on what additional enforcement might be needed as legal marijuana sales expand. Stakeholders favored regulations and the enforcement thereof, but they didn’t see the need for this enforcement to happen through the MDEA.
Caregivers worried that a simple unintended error made while navigating the increasingly complicated regulatory landscape might result in an all-out raid. They preferred working through compliance issues collaboratively with the Department of Administration and Financial Services and the Office of Marijuana Policy, who oversee the medical marijuana program.
One piece of particularly heartfelt testimony came from Ashley Cyr of Dexter, who like others, was appalled by the idea of using MDEA for cannabis while the opioid epidemic was still wreaking havoc on Maine’s rural communities. Ashley testified that Dexter had experienced four overdoses in the last month, two resulting in death.
Medical marijuana dispensary representatives were curiously absent from the collective that testified against the Mills administration’s proposed DEA positions. The graphic on social media suggests dispensaries make up roughly ¼ of medical marijuana sales in Maine, and I’ve frequently heard their representatives testify on other marijuana-related legislation.
It will be interesting to see how committee members handle this proposal. Several were quick to ask questions of Commissioner Micheal Sauschuck after his presentation. The hearing format allowed ample time and focus on public testimony, which clearly slanted one way. Whatever they decide, the people behind $111 million in sales are watching.
Editor’s note: Our apologies for the lack of thorough content in this post. We have no budget here at JibbahJabbah.com and rely heavily on free information. Free being relative to the cost of maintaining an internet connection, of course. Paywalls are a hindrance and limit us from sharing information we can’t review, like the PPH article I refer to in this post. Further, while the staff at Portland Press Herald may have had access to the information being reported, I was unable to find it on the DAFS and OMP websites. Bangor Daily News didn’t cover it either.