It’s not often I get to write about politics from a positive frame of mind. When I covered the world of politics for my Mainely Thoughts blog, I was usually writing from a cynical place; and we’ve had a flurry of marijuana-related legislation recently that’s left me feeling much the same.
So, the hardest part about reporting on the Health and Human Services Committee hearing on LD 2099 at the legislature is trying to write about something political while feeling upbeat. Go figure.
Attending the hearing was a great experience, though, largely because of the level of interactivity between committee members, the department representative from the Office of Marijuana Policy (OMP) and members of the public who came to testify. LD 2099, sponsored by Sen. Geoff Gratwick on behalf of the Department of Administration and Financial Services (DAFS)/OMP, seeks to amend rules in the medical marijuana program as described in the following screenshots of the bill’s summary.
As OMP Director of Policy Gabi Pierce explained in her testimony on behalf of the legislation, the changes are designed to bring the medical program in alignment with the adult use program, a goal that wasn’t shared by many testifying in opposition. Pierce emphasized, however, that the department was open to a dialogue with stakeholders and legislators to try to reach compromises for areas of concern.
Of the more than two dozen people – including caregivers, trade organization representatives, patients, and Rep. Craig Hickman — who testified Wednesday, the majority opposed the legislation as written. Several, like Dan Walker who was representing the Wellness Center, liked some aspects of the changes but opposed others, like changing the designation of ethanol/alcohol used to process cannabis as an inherently hazardous substance. Walker also requested an amendment regarding the regulations for ownership of dispensaries.
From others, committee members repeatedly heard a preference for bringing the adult use program more in alignment with the medical program rather than vice versa. The fines were another common area of concern for caregivers. Kevin Felker of Winslow evoked laughter throughout the room when he talked about trying to reconcile the idea of a “minor” error resulting in fines up to $100,000. Opponents testified that the fines, among other aspects of the legislation, seemed as if they were designed to drive caregivers out of the medical marijuana program and the Maine cannabis marketplace.
Mark Barnett, speaking on behalf of the Maine Craft Cannabis Coalition, observed that the fine for murder in Maine is only $50,000, comparatively. Hillary Lister of Maine Matters questioned how patients would be disciplined for infractions, since they weren’t included in the language for the fine schedule. She suggested that, if the designation for alcohol were to be changed, patients who process their own Full Extract Cannabis Oil (FECO) might be susceptible to felony trafficking charges.
Caregivers also took issue with the change to the definition of seedlings and expressed serious concerns with the federal component of the background check. The primary recurring theme throughout most of the testimony, however, was opposition to changing the designation of ethanol/alcohol.
Committee members were gracious and fully engaged throughout the four-hour hearing. They frequently asked questions, eliciting details about each aspect of the legislation from those that testified. Legislators were especially interested in how alcohol was used to make FECO being quite open about needing to know more about a process that was largely unknown to them.
Committee co-chair Rep. Patricia (Patty) Hymanson brought up the idea of stakeholders coming together with DAFS/OMP to work out areas of compromise and change to the legislation that could then be taken up by the committee. She stressed the importance of stakeholder input for the committee’s process when it came to the medical marijuana program. Pierce said the department would welcome such an endeavor and said she would organize it.
And how nice to conclude by saying I genuinely look forward to reporting on how this collaborative effort works out. Again, with the upbeat, positive stuff. Go figure!
How nice to leave a positive, upbeat legislative hearing WITH goodies! Dawson Julia of East Coast CBD’s was handing out awesome pins, a gentleman from Small Batch Maine shared a Querkle joint and some killer medicated cheese puffs – seriously, cheese puffs! And I BEGGED Rep. Hickman to give me a sticker someone printed to commemorate his final months at the legislature. Boy will he be missed! If he’s not one of the most inspirational, intelligent, intentional people in Maine, I don’t know who is.
Also, hats off to Rep. Patty Hymanson! She had a full house today and balanced the event so well, treating each person speaking with grace. When applause interrupted the testimony a couple times, she reminded attendees about the importance of maintaining a neutral environment to enable all voices to be heard. It wasn’t an easy message to deliver to a passionate crowd, but it was the right one. Hymanson did it with authority but without stifling the healthy discussion her committee was hosting.