According to officials in Maine, the number of caregivers applying to supply medical cannabis in the state is plummeting.
The Sun Journalreports that over a quarter of Maine businesses in the state’s medical cannabis industry have closed down in the last two years. Maine regulators pointed out another glaring problem, the loss of caretakers, and blamed it on oversupply in the state’s medical industry, among other problems.
The spring report from the Maine Office of Cannabis Policy (OCP) describes a “mass exodus” of 1,350 caregivers who are registered with the state to supply medical-use cannabis for patients.
Despite the number of people joining the industry, from the end of 2021 to the beginning of 2023 there’s been a net loss of about 950 caregivers. Officials counted 2,070 caregivers as of March 31, according to state data. In 2021, there were 3,032 caregivers recorded, and at the program’s peak in 2016, there were 3,257 caregivers.
The report outlines several reasons why they think caregivers are leaving the program.
“The Maine Medical Use of Cannabis Program (MMCP) saw over 1350 caregivers exit the program from the end of 2021 to the end of January 2023,” the report reads. “The impacts of this exodus—a net loss of over 800 caregivers—have been felt by the remaining caregivers and resulted in a number of unsubstantiated claims about why this trend has emerged and why caregivers are continuing to leave the program. Rather than relying on anecdotal evidence, in early 2023, the Office of Cannabis Policy (OCP) surveyed former caregivers to gain a better understanding of why so many registrants exited the program.”
The OCP blames Maine lawmakers for refusing to update statutes for five years. Even though over 1,000 caregivers have left the program, supply has been uninterrupted, which the OCP proves the market is oversaturated. The report also highlights steep utility and business costs, competition with the adult-use market, and banking restrictions.
“This survey makes clear that the biggest issue facing the medical program is oversupply,” John Hudak, director of the Office of Cannabis Policy, said in a statement. “That oversupply has led to massive drops in wholesale price, making it difficult for registrants to endure mounting energy costs and other market conditions.”
The report also identifies another problem, that caregivers feel as though they are under constant threat, walking on eggshells, in order to not break any rules. Caregivers say that a mandatory track-and-trace system, installed under a recent law, would be too expensive for them to handle, for instance. Clearly a lot of patients found that they can get cannabis just as easily with a state ID at adult-use businesses.
Caregivers were asked by the OCP in a survey to explain why they aren’t signing up for the state’s medical cannabis program.
“More regulation of the size of recreational cannabis businesses,” one caregiver wrote when they were asked for public comment. “We have allowed big businesses to come in and open recreational cannabis grows and stores. Nobody in the public domain wants to pay $50 for a medical card.”
The former caregiver continued, “Nobody with a small business can afford to compete with the over-saturated market, at a time when prices are going up on electricity and rent (more than double) the recreational market has destroyed medical simply by growing more and dropping prices to rock bottom. Incidentally, our medical market is flooded with caregivers that are forced to sell illegally on the side just to survive in today’s market.”
It’s important to note, however, that the response rate of the caregiver survey was just 8% or 117 completed surveys out of more than 1,300 people who were contacted. The report identifies several things that need to change in order for Maine’s medical cannabis industry to survive.
Adult-use cannabis sales soared last year in Maine, nearly doubling the total for 2021.
The local news outlet Masthead Maine, citing data that was released by the Maine Office of Cannabis Policy, reports that the “state’s licensed adult-use retailers reported nearly 2.5 million sale transactions, totaling $158.9 million [in 2022],” which was up from the $82 million of sales generated the year prior.
“(The growth) reflects the significant economic impact that legal cannabis continues to have in the communities that have opted into the system,” said John Hudak, the director of the state’s Office of Cannabis Policy, as quoted by Masthead Maine. “The system is creating jobs, helping revitalize communities, and having a positive economic impact on businesses that help the industry function.”
Maine voters approved a proposal legalizing recreational cannabis use for adults in 2016, but the law took years to finally materialize.
That is because former Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, repeatedly stood in the way of the law’s implementation.
But voters there elected a new governor in 2018, the Democrat Janet Mills, who immediately went to work in upholding the will of the people and getting the new marijuana law up and running.
In the summer of 2019, Mills signed a bill that made changes to and enacted the new cannabis law.
“Over the course of the last several months, my Administration has worked quickly to implement the law regarding Maine’s adult-use recreational marijuana market as Maine voters asked the state to do two and a half years ago,” Mills said at the time. “The rule development demonstrates what can be accomplished when state government works with lawmakers, industry stakeholders, and the public to accomplish a shared goal. With this law, we are one step closer to honoring the will of Maine voters.”
The governor’s office said at the time that the legislation signed by Mills made “several changes to the [marijuana law] including an amendment to the Maine Food Law to no longer consider edibles produced with recreational marijuana as adulterated, allowing the entry of certain vendors into the limited access areas of licensees, and authorizing the department to impose an administrative hold on a licensee,” while additionally authorizing both the Office of Marijuana Policy and the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services “to complete final adoption of their adult use rulemaking.”
“OMP consulted with seven different state agencies consisting of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry; Department of Health and Human Services; Department of Labor; Department of Public Safety; Department of Environmental Protection; Department of Professional and Financial Regulation; and DAFS’ Maine Revenue Services when completing their rulemaking work,” Mills’s office said at the time. “The office also coordinated closely with the Office of the Attorney General, Department of the Secretary of State and the Legislature’s Office of Policy and Legal Analysis.”
The months and years that have followed have seen the fledgling marijuana industry grow and prosper. In May 2021, the state reported more than $5 million in recreational pot sales, which at the time made it the highest grossing month.
That is a modest figure compared to the more recent monthly sales totals. Masthead Maine reports that the state “set a new record each month through August 2022, which brought in over $17 million.”
Last month brought in $15.2 million in recreational marijuana sales, according to the outlet, and the 2022 sales “also earned the state roughly $16 million in tax revenue.”
Thirty years ago, when High Times was in its infancy, I did a long interview with Norman Mailer that was published in two parts in Rolling Stone magazine. Mailer and I first met in Provincetown, MA, in the winter of 1970 and have been close friends ever since. At one time we owned property together in Maine, which was put up as collateral for bail when I got busted for smuggling marijuana in the early ’80s. The Feds were all over the connection between Mailer and me; he testified for the defense at the trial of my partner in Toronto, Rosie Rowbotham, who ended up doing over 20 years for importing hashish. Mailer later testified at my trials in Maine and New York. The government became convinced that he was some sort of hippie godfather to the sprawling marijuana trafficking organization Rowbotham and I ran, along the lines of Timothy Leary’s figurehead status with the Brotherhood of Eternal Love conspiracy out of Laguna Beach, CA.
But Mailer was more a friend of the cause than a co-conspirator. He certainly had what to an assistant United States attorney might qualify as “guilty knowledge.” He knew what I was up to. I remember standing with him on the balcony of his Brooklyn Heights apartment one night, looking out at the glittering behemoths of the Lower Manhattan financial district, then down at the containers stacked on the Brooklyn docks below like mini-skyscrapers and telling him, “Right down there, Norman, in those containers, there’s seven million dollars’ worth of Lebanese hash. All I have to do is get it out of there without getting busted.” The novelist in him was intrigued, but the criminal in him would always remain subservient to the artist. The government put tremendous pressure on me to give them Mailer, as though he were some trophy I could trade for my own culpability. They were star-fucking: John DeLorean had been busted in a set-up coke case; Mailer’s head would have looked good mounted on some government prosecutor’s wall.
When I went to prison in 1982, Mailer became—after my mother—my most loyal visitor and correspondent. And when I was released in 1990, I stayed in his Brooklyn Heights apartment while the Mailer family summered in Provincetown. I’ve known Mailer’s youngest son, John Buffalo, since he was born and turned to him when I needed someone to act in my stead here at the magazine while I finished work on the TV show I produced for Showtime.
But, as with my criminal enterprise, Mailer has no financial stake in the outcome of the High Times mini-media-conglomerate conspiracy. He’s an interested observer and adviser.
All this by way of saying there’s real history here, so much so that there was never any pretense at making this a typical interview; it’s more like a master speaking to an apprentice about what he has learned. I’d read Mailer extensively before I met him. His writing, in essays such as “The White Negro” and “General Marijuana,” his nonfiction The Armies of the Night and The Executioner’s Song, and the novels The Naked and the Dead, An American Dream, Why Are We in Vietnam? and Ancient Evenings, to mention just a few Mailer works, have reshaped post-World War II American literature. Mailer’s whole notion of the existential hipster living in the crucible of his orgasm probably contributed as much to my fascination with the outlaw life as the cannabis plant itself.
I’ve smoked pot with Mailer on a number of occasions and have always been impressed with where it took him: to the outermost reaches of the universe and back to the murky depths of the human psyche. But I had never really sat with him and got his thoughts on pot until we met, almost 30 years to the day of that first interview, and I asked him to expound on his views of the plant that became the inspiration for this magazine.
Norman Mailer: Looking back on pot—is it 30 years since I smoked?—by the ’70s I began to feel it was costing me too much. We’ll get to what I got out of it and what I didn’t get out of it—but by the ’80s, I just smoked occasionally. And I don’t think I’ve had a toke—and this is neither to brag nor apologize—in 10 years. But I look back on it as one of the profoundest parts of my life. It did me a lot of good and a lot of harm.
What I’d like to do today is talk about these dimensions of pot. People who smoke marijuana all the time are, as far as I’m concerned, fundamentalists. Their one belief is that pot is good, pot takes care of everything—it’s their gospel. I think they’re about as limited—if you want to get brutal about it—as fundamentalists. Fundamentalists can’t think; they can only refer to the Gospels. Pot people can’t recognize that something as good as that might have something very bad connected to it—which is not to do with the law, but what it does to you. That’s what I’d like to talk about. The plus and minus.
The other thing I’d like to talk about is the cultural phenomenon of pot. That is rarely gone into. Instead, people are always taking sides—pot’s good, pot’s bad; pot should be outlawed, pot should be decriminalized—there’s always this legalistic approach. But I think marijuana had a profound cultural effect upon America, and I wouldn’t mind seeing this magazine exploring all that pot did to the American mentality—good and bad.
Richard Stratton: Marijuana is already a huge cultural phenomenon. In the 30 years High Times has been around, pot has gone from a marginal anomaly in our society to something that’s almost mainstream.
Mailer: Yeah, only not mainstream yet. Too many attitudes have settled in on pot, and there’s too much dead-ass in the thinking of pot smokers now. Some 30 years ago when it was all new, we really felt we were adventurers—let’s say 40 years ago—we really felt we were on the edge of startling and incredible revelations. You’d have perceptions that I still use to this day—that’s part of the good. When I first began smoking, I was a typical liberal, a radical rationalist. I never believed in a Higher Power. I still dislike those two words—Higher Power. I didn’t believe that God was there. I couldn’t explain anything, because when you’re an atheist, you’re living without a boat on an island in the Pacific that’s surrounded by water: There’s nowhere to go.
It’s hard enough to believe in God, but to assume there is no God, no prime force—how can you begin to explain anything that way?
I was a socialist, more radical than most liberals, but I was altogether a rationalist. I was also at the point of getting into one or another kind of terminal disease, because my life was wrong. My liver was lousy and I wasn’t even drinking a lot. My personal life was not happy and I was congested, constricted. I couldn’t have been tighter. Then pot hit.
In the beginning, I remember that pot used to irritate the hell out of me, because nothing would happen when I smoked.
I’ve noticed that intellectuals with highly developed minds usually have trouble turning on. The mental structure is so developed, so ratiocinative. So many minefields have been built up to protect the intellect from pot, which is seen as the disrupter, the enemy. The first few times I smoked, I just got tired, dull and irritated. I was angry that nothing had happened. It went on like that for perhaps a year. Three, four, five times I smoked, and each occasion was a blank.
Then one night in Mexico I got into a crazy sexual scene with two women. We were smoking an awful lot of pot. Then one of the women went home and the other went to sleep and I felt ill and got up and vomited. I’d never vomited like that in my life. It was exactly as if I was having an orgasm of convulsive vomiting. Spasmodically, I was throwing off a ton of anxiety. I’ve never had anything like that since and I wouldn’t want to. Not again. Pretty powerful convulsive experience.
Afterward, I rinsed my mouth out, went downstairs to where my then wife was sleeping on one couch, and I lay down on the other and stayed there. Then it hit—how that pot hit! I don’t know if it ever hit any harder. It was incredible: I was able to change the face of my wife into anyone I wanted. It went on before my eyes. I could play all sorts of games in my mind. Whole scenarios. It went on for hours. When it was over, I knew that I was going to try this again.
A couple of days later, I was out in the car listening to the radio. Some jazz came on. I’d been listening to jazz for years, but it had never meant all that much to me. Now, with the powers pot offered, simple things became complex; complex things clarified themselves. These musicians were offering the inner content of their experience to me. Later, when I wrote about it, I would say that jazz is the music of orgasm. Because that was what it seemed to me. These very talented, charged-up players full of their joys and twists and kinks—God, they had as many as I did—were looking for the musical equivalent of an orgasm. They would take a song, play the melody, then go into variations on it, until they got themselves into a tighter and tighter situation with the take-off on the melody.
I can’t speak musically, but I can tell what was going on in that odyssey. They were saying: This is very, very hard to get out, it’s full of knots—but I’m going to do it. And they’d climb a tower of music looking to reach the gates at the top and break through. It wasn’t automatic; very often they failed. They’d go on and on, try more variations, then more. But often they couldn’t solve the problem they’d set themselves musically, whatever that problem was. And sometimes, occasionally, they would break through. Then it was incredible, for they would emerge with you into a happy land just listening to music. Other times they’d stop with a little flair, a sign-off, as if to say: That’s it, I give up. All that was what I heard while high, and I loved it. I became a jazz buff.
Over the next couple of years, I went often to the Five Spot, the Village Vanguard, the Jazz Gallery. I’d hear the greats: Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Coltrane, Miles Davis. Those were incredibly heady years, listening to those guys for hours on pot, or without it, because once pot had broken into my metallic mental structure, it had cracked the vise, you might say, that closed me off from music. I had become such a lover of pot that I broke up with a few friends who wouldn’t smoke it. At the end of a long road—10 years down that road—I committed a felony while on pot.
That didn’t stop me, but I did smoke a little less as the years went on.
I’m a writer: The most important single element in my life, other than my family, has been my writing. So as a writer, I always had to ask: Is this good for my writing? And I began to look at pot through that lens. It wasn’t all bad for editing—it was crazy. I’d have three or four bad ideas and one good one, but at the same time I was learning a lot about the sounds of language. Before, I’d been someone who wrote for the sense of what I was saying, and now I began to write for the sound of what I was writing.
Stratton: Like a jazz musician.
Mailer: Well, I wouldn’t go that far, but to a degree, yes. I’d look for the rhythm of the long sentence rather than the intellectual impact, which often proved to be more powerful when it came out of the rhythm. So occasionally the editing was excellent. But it was impossible to write new stuff on pot.
The experience was too intense. On pot, I would have the illusion that you need say no more than “I love you” and all of love would be there. Obviously, that was not enough.
Stratton: Let’s talk about the detrimental aspects of pot, how you feel it worked against you.
Mailer: Well, the main thing was that I was mortgaging time, mortgaging my future. Because I’d have brilliant insights while on pot but could hardly remember any of them later. My handwriting would even break down. Then three-quarters of the insights were lost to scribbles. Whenever I had a tremendous take on pot, I was good for very little over the next 48 hours.
But if you’re a novelist, you have to work every day. There are no easy stretches. You do the work. Marijuana was terrible for that. So I had longer and longer periods where I wouldn’t go near pot—it would get me too far off my novelistic tracks. When it hit, three or four chapters of my next book would come into my head at once. That would often be a disaster. The happiest moment you can have when writing is when a sense of the truth comes in at the point of your pen. It just feels true. As you are writing! Such a moment is most certainly one of the reasons you write. But if I received similar truths via pot, I was no longer stretching my mind by my work as a novelist.
In fact, with the noticeable exception of Hunter Thompson, who has broken—bless him—has broken every fucking rule there is for ingesting alien substances…indeed, there’s nobody remotely equal to Hunter—I don’t know how he does it. I have great admiration for his constitution and the fact that he can be such a good writer with all the crap he takes into himself. Unbelievable, unbelievable—but no other writer I know can do it.
Stratton: So you believe that, if you were to smoke some good pot right now, you’d let your mind go—and you might see the rest of the book in your head, but you might not have the impetus to sit down and write it?
Mailer: That’s right. One mustn’t talk about one’s book. For instance, I’m doing one now where I haven’t even told my wife what it’s about. She’s guessed—she’s a very smart lady, so she’s guessed—but the thing is, I know that to talk about this book would be so much more stimulating and easy and agreeable than to write it that I’d end up talking to people about what a marvelous book I could have done. I believe pot does that in a far grander way—it’s the difference between watching a movie on a dinky little TV set and going to a state-of-the-art cinema.
Stratton: Most of the writing I’m doing these days is screenwriting. And because of the nature of the material I’m working on, I usually have a detailed outline. I know where I’m going, I’ve already seen the movie in my head. So when I write, after having smoked some pot, I find that what it does for me is I can just sit back and watch the scene play out in my mind. And I don’t have to worry about getting lost, because I’ve got the structure of the screenplay holding me in check.
Mailer: I can see that would work for screenplays, but in a novel you’ve got to do it all.
Stratton: What about sex on pot?
Mailer: Sex on pot was fabulous. That was the big element. I realized I hadn’t known anything about sex until I was able to enjoy it on pot. Then again, after a few years, I began to see some of the negative aspects. Once, speaking at Rice High School—I had a friend, a priest named Pete Jacobs, who’d invited me to speak there; it’s a Catholic high school run by the Christian Brothers in Manhattan, and it’s a school well respected by a lot of Irish working class all around New York, Staten Island, Queens, because they give you a very good, tough education there. The Christian Brothers are tough. But Pete told me, “Say what you want to say. These kids will be right on top of it.” They were. They weren’t passive students at all. One of them asked me, “How do you feel about marijuana and sex?” And I gave him this answer: You can be out with a girl, have sex with her for the first time on pot and it might be fabulous—you and the girl go very far out. Then two days later you hear that the girl was killed in an automobile accident and you say, “Too bad. Such a sweet little chick.” You hardly feel more than that. The action had exhausted your emotions. On pot, you can have a romance that normally would take three to six months to develop being telescoped into one big fuck. But over one night, there’s no loyalty or allegiance to it because you haven’t paid the price. About that time, I realized that fucking on pot was crazy because you’d feel things you never felt before, but on the other hand, you really didn’t attach that much loyalty to the woman. Your feelings of love were not for the woman, but for the idea of love. It was insufficiently connected to the real woman.
It bounced off her reality rather than drawing you toward it. Other times, you could indeed get into the reality of the woman and even see something hard and cold and cruel in her depths, or something so beautiful you didn’t want to go too near it because you knew you were a lousy son of a bitch and you’d ruin it.
One way or another, I found that pot intensified my attitudes toward love, but it also left me detached. It was a peculiar business. So there came a point where I began to think: Who gave us pot? Was it God or the devil? Because by now, I was my own species of a religious man. I believed in an existential God who was doing the best that He or She could do.
God was out there as the Creator, but God was not all powerful or all wise. God was an artistic general, if you will—a very creative and wonderful general—better than any general who ever lived. By far. But even so, generals finally can’t take care of all their troops. And the notion of people praying all the time—begging for God to watch over them, take care of them—so conflicted with what I felt. I felt that God cannot be all good and all powerful. Not both. Because if He’s all good, He is certainly not all powerful. There’s no way to explain the horrors of history, including the mid-century horrors of the last century, if He is all good. Whereas if God is a great creator—not necessarily the lord of all the universe, but let’s say the lord of our part of the universe, our Creator—then God, on a grander scale, bears the same relationship to us that a parent does to a child. No parent is all wise, all powerful and all good. The parent is doing the best that he or she can do. And very often it doesn’t turn out well. That made sense to me. I could see our relation to God: God needs us as much as we need God. And to me, that was exciting, because now it wasn’t a slavish relationship anymore. It made sense.
Stratton: You feel marijuana helped you discover this existential God?
Mailer: No question. That was part of the great trip. But I began to brood on a line that I’d written long before I’d smoked marijuana, a line from The Deer Park. The director who was my main character was having all sorts of insights and revelations while dead drunk, but then said to himself, “Why is my mind so alive when I’m too drunk to do anything about it?” That came back to haunt me. Because I thought: Pot is giving me so much, but I’m not doing my work. I don’t get near enough to the visions and insights I’m having on pot. So is it a gift of God—pot? Or does it come from the devil? Is this the nearest the devil comes to being godlike? It seemed there were three possibilities there: One could well be that marijuana was a gift of God and, if so, must not be abused. Or was it an instrument of the devil? Or were God and the devil both present when we smoked? Maybe God needed us to become more illumined? After all, one of my favorite notions is that organized religion could well be one of the great creations of the devil. How better to drive people away from God than to give them a notion of the Almighty that doesn’t fit the facts? So, I do come back to this notion that maybe God and the devil are obliged willynilly to collaborate here. Each thinks that they can benefit from pot: God can give you the insights and the devil will reap the exhaustions and the debilities. Because I think pot debilitates people. I’ve noticed over and over that people who smoke pot all the time generally do very little with their lives. I’ve always liked booze because I felt: It’s a vice, but I know exactly what I’m paying for. You hurt your head in the beginning and your knees in the end, when you get arthritis. But at least you know how you’re paying for the fun. Pot’s spookier. Pot gives so much more than booze on the one hand—but on the other, never quite presents the bill.
Stratton: I’m not sure that’s true of everyone who smokes pot.
Mailer: I’m sure it’s not.
Stratton: A lot of people are motivated by pot. I am, for one.
Mailer: What do you mean, “motivated”?
Stratton: I mean that it doesn’t debilitate me. I don’t want to sit around and do nothing when I’m high. I get inspired, energized.
I don’t subscribe to the theory of the antimotivational syndrome. If anything, when I’m straight, I’m often too hyper and too left-brain-oriented. I go off on tangents and I don’t stop to look around and try to find a deeper meaning in what I’m doing. Marijuana will slow me down and allow me to connect with the mood of what’s going on around me. And that, in turn, inspires me to go further into what I’m trying to do.
Mailer: I ended a few romances over the years because when I got on pot I couldn’t stop talking. And finally I remember one girl who said, “Did you come to fuck or to knit?”
Stratton: That’s one of the interesting things about marijuana—how it affects everyone differently. It seems to enhance and intensify whatever’s going on in the person at any given moment. Let’s say that we were going to do some stretching right now and we did it straight. We’d be like, “Oh, man, this hurts. This is an ordeal.”
Now if we smoke a little pot and then stretch, it would feel good and put us more in touch with our bodies and the deeper sensations of the activity.
Mailer: I learned more about my body and reflex and grace, even, such as I have—whatever limited physical grace I have, I got it through pot showing me where my body, or how my body, was feeling at any given moment. Here, I can agree with you. Dancing—I could always dance on pot. Not much of a dancer otherwise, but on pot, I could dance. There’s no question it liberated me. All of these good things were there. All the same, when it comes to the legalization of pot, I get dubious. Pot would be taken over by media culture. It would be classified and categorized. It would lose that wonderful little funky edge that once it had—that sensation of being on the edge of the criminal. All the same, the corporate bastards who run most of America will not legalize it in a hurry. Pot is still a great danger to them. Because what they fear is that too many people would no longer give a damn about the corporation—they’d have their minds on other things than working for the Big Empty. To the suits, that makes pot a deadly drug. The corporation has a bad enough conscience buried deep inside to fear, despite their strength, every type of psychic alteration that they haven’t developed themselves.
The National Craft Cannabis Coalition, comprised of state-level advocacy groups from Oregon, California, Washington, Vermont, Maine, and Massachusetts, was formed with the goal of promoting state and federal policies that support small-scale growers, starting with the SHIP Act introduced by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA).
The SHIP (Small and Homestead Independent Producers) Act would allow craft growers to ship and sell weed directly to their consumers if and when marijuana is federally legalized. If passed, the bill would take effect once marijuana is removed from its current Schedule 1 status and once all criminal penalties are removed under federal law concerning marijuana.
“Too often, the federal government falls behind, and the gears of Congress work too slowly to keep up with the pace of a changing economy,” Representative Huffman said.
“Under my bill, folks in our state will be able to ship their products straight to consumers when the antiquated federal prohibition on cannabis is finally repealed. As large, commercial cannabis operations squeeze out local producers from the market, this legislation is critical for farmers to survive and expand their small businesses.”
Under the SHIP act, a qualifying cannabis grower would be anyone who cultivates:
One acre or less of 18 mature flowering marijuana plant canopy using outdoor cultivation
22,000 square feet or less of marijuana plant canopy using greenhouse cultivation
5,000 square feet or fewer of mature flowering marijuana plant canopy using indoor cultivation
Small and craft growers have lamented they don’t stand a chance in markets dominated by large multi-state operators capable of growing exponentially more canopy space for a fraction of the cost, especially when the final product has to be packaged and sold through third-party businesses. This results in a lot of large, vertically-integrated companies essentially pricing out the little guys who can’t afford to buy and operate their own dispensary, grow facility, and packaging facility.
“These producers operate on a much smaller scale than traditional agriculture with many cultivating less than an acre of total canopy,” said Amanda Meztler of F.A.R.M.S. Inc Oregon.
“With federal legalization on the horizon, it’s critical that craft cannabis producers organize across state lines to ensure that federal policy includes a level playing field for small and independent businesses.”
Thus, members of the NCCC have collectively proposed that the only way small growers can survive is if they are allowed to sell directly to their customers.
“The direct-to-consumer model is a necessary resource for any small-scale craft-producing community that is deeply tied to the land on which it creates — whether it produces wine, whiskey, cheese, beer, cannabis, or honey,” said Genine Coleman, Executive Director of Origins Council in a prepared statement.
“The legacy cannabis community that has worked so long in the shadows should have the opportunity to join the ranks of other artisan producers across the United States and enjoy the privilege of connecting personally with their adult customers.”
To date the NCCC represents over 1,000 small and independent commercial cannabis growers through their state-level organizations including Origins Council (CA), F.A.R.M.S. Inc (OR), Washington Sun & Craft Growers Association (WA), Vermont Growers Association (VT), Maine Craft Cannabis Association (ME), and Farm Bug Co-Op (MA).
Maridose LLC, based in Maine, announced on Aug. 19 that it officially received a federal cultivation license from both the United States Department of Justice, as well as the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). The company is one of only seven in the country that have been approved by the DEA as a “bulk manufacturer marihuana grower.”
“We are very excited to receive this license from the DEA to produce and sell cannabis for research purposes, this a huge step for science and the future of cannabis,” said Maridose Founder Richard Shain.
In the past, the only institution that was legally allowed to provide cannabis to researchers was the University of Mississippi’s National Center for Development of Natural Products, when it received the country’s only cultivation registration from the DEA in 1968. That monopoly ended in May 2021 when the DEA announced that it would eventually be granting cultivation licenses to third-party applicants. “Pending final approval, DEA has determined, based on currently available information, that a number of manufacturers’ applications to cultivate marijuana for research needs in the United States appears to be consistent with applicable legal standards and relevant laws. DEA has, therefore, provided a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to these manufacturers as the next step in the approval process.”
“Our DEA Registration Number RM063095 is the culmination of over five years of working with the DEA and enables Maridose to legally sell a wide variety of cannabis products through the DEA to researchers and DEA-licensed pharmaceutical companies in the United States and internationally,” said Shain. “The DEA has indicated that it will only issue a very limited number of them, and Maridose is proud to be one of the first companies to receive a license. Cannabis businesses operating in states that have state legal cannabis are unable to ship across state lines and operate at legal risk because cannabis remains a Schedule 1 substance at the federal level. Maridose is able to legally supply our customers without these risks and limitations.”
Dr. Sue Sisley, President of the Scottsdale Research Institute, has long been respected as a leader in cannabis study. Although the institute received approval from the DEA in May 2021, it still wasn’t safe from the ongoing issue of banking in the cannabis industry. In October 2021, Sisley took to Twitter, explaining how the Bank of America closed the Scottsdale Research Institute’s accounts with very little notice. “Bank of America closes down account of Federally-licensed cannabis researcher. SRI conducts FDA approved controlled trials evaluating cannabis as medicine for treating pain/PTSD in military veterans & terminally ill patients this TRAGICALLY shuts down our research @BankofAmerica,” she wrote on Oct. 12, 2021.
The SAFE Banking Act would be a welcome improvement to ongoing cannabis industry woes, but many believe that it’s not enough to fully protect cannabis businesses.
Cannabis research continues to ramp up, with Louisiana University recently receiving approval to study cannabis. It’s currently one of only two schools that has been chosen in the state so far. In June, the government researchers spoke up about their work in helping treat military veterans with MDMA and psilocybin.
Dispensaries in Maine are preparing to batten down the hatches. Bangor Daily News reports that jam-band Phish is coming to town, and local dispensary workers are bracing for the frenzied rush of business the concert will likely bring.
Phish will perform at the Maine Savings Amphitheater on the Bangor Waterfront in Bangor, Maine on July 16—marking the band’s fifth performance in the city since 1993 and its 47th show in Maine. It’s the first time Phish is performing in Maine with recreational sales after the state legalized cannabis two years ago.
Why all the fuss? Because Phish’s fanbase of tie-dyed stoned hippies are so devoted and cult-like, the argument has even been made that Phish is an actual cult. (It’s not.) Unlike typical bands, Phish fans follow the band around the country religiously, and concerts generally draw a lot of outsiders—outsiders who smoke bud. Five-digit numbers of people in the crowd is not too uncommon.
While locals are wary about the influx of cannabis that is likely to happen, they also acknowledged how the pot-smoking crowd is easier to deal with than a drunk crowd.
“Phish fans definitely bring a great crowd, but they are pretty well-behaved compared to others. It’s not crazy like the country shows. Those fans like to party,” Mark Greenleaf, owner Carolina Sports & Spirits, toldBangor Daily News. Greenleaf’s business storefront is only a few hundred feet from the entrance to the amphitheater that Phish will perform at. “We’re happy to have any concert event. They always bring us some business, and many of them pack the place.”
Dispensary owners also expect an increase in sales, but maybe aren’t 100% convinced the concert will create a phenomenon.
“We’re grateful for every concert that comes to town. It’s always a boon for us,” said Sam Cross, manager at Firestorm, a dispensary in town. “It’s hard to say exactly what kind of crowd we’ll see for Phish, but we’ll definitely see them. It’s always nice to see a caravan of Phish fans come in.”
The event in Maine may not be quite so large, but it draws the same cult-like devotion seen at the band’s other concerts.
Cannabis and psychedelics are practically synonymous with the band as they complement the musical genre very well. The Vermont-based band formed in 1983 and plays the jam-band style of music that emerged out of the 1960s psychedelic scene. When Jerry Garcia died in 1995, apparently a lot of Grateful Dead followers—aka deadheads—refocused on Phish. Expect a lot of braided hemp and glass pipe accessories, and plenty of long hair. The band consists of lead vocalist Trey Anastasio along with Page McConnell, Mike Gordon, and Jon Fishman.
Phish has played in Maine nearly 50 times since 1989. At one particular event, The Great Went at Loring Air Force Base in Aroostook County in 1997, over 75,000 people showed up. It was 1997’s highest-grossing rock concert in the U.S., according to Bangor Daily News.
Police have linked a rash of burglaries targeting New England cannabis dispensaries to a trio of suspects in Massachusetts, according to a report from the Portland Press Herald. Law enforcement officers say that a man from New Bedford, Massachusetts and two brothers from Boston are suspected in the string of burglaries of licensed cannabis enterprises going back to 2020.
Police began connecting the crimes after a burglary at a cannabis grower in Gorham, Maine in October of last year. In that caper, three individuals wearing face coverings, hats and long sleeves cut their way through an exterior wall of the business located in an industrial park while a fourth person stood watch outside. The three burglars inside the building moved cautiously from room to room, trying to avoid detection by motion sensors. When the team finally left a couple of hours later, they took 30 pounds of cannabis and 500 THC vape cartridges with them.
During their investigation, police reviewed video from the cannabis cultivator’s security cameras. One camera caught the image of the Massachusetts license plate of a pickup truck that entered the parking lot two hours before the crime. And inside the building, one of the camera’s microphones recorded the burglars talking to one another.
“Where the (expletive) is Dario?” one burglar clearly said to another.
“He’s putting the trunks in the truck, ” the accomplice replied.
Investigation Yields Three Suspects
The license plate led law enforcement officers to Dario Almeida, a 21-year-old man with an address in New Bedford, Massachusetts. When Gorham police Detective Stephen Hinkley called New Bedford police, they gave him a cellphone number for Almeida, who had had a recent contact with the department.
A week later, police in New Bedford contacted Hinkley via email to inform him that Almeida and his brother Rafael were suspects in a similar burglary of a cannabis cultivator in Warwick, Rhode Island, where the same pickup truck was also caught on video. Police believe that the brothers are from South Boston and a third suspect is from New Bedford, according to Mass Live.
After reaching out to other New England law enforcement agencies, Hinkley learned of seven similar burglaries that had occurred in Maine since June of last year. Another Gorham cannabis business was also burglarized by criminals who cut through an exterior wall on Thanksgiving night in 2020. Burglars also targeted a cannabis business in South Portland, Maine. In January, a Portland, Maine judge issued a search warrant for evidence including location data from one of the suspect’s cell phones for the times that two of the burglaries occurred. No arrests have yet been made, and the case is still being investigated.
Police in South Portland and Warwick did not reply to reporters’ questions about the burglaries. Gorham Police Chief Christopher Sanborn also declined to comment on the rash of burglaries.
“This is an open investigation that we are currently working on,” Sanborn said. “I’m sorry, but I cannot comment any further at this time.”
Maine’s cannabis regulatory agency, the Office of Marijuana Policy, requires licensed cannabis businesses to report burglaries, robberies and other crimes. But David Heidrich, a spokesperson for the agency, said that many businesses are not familiar with the procedure to submit such reports. The reports the regulator has received are confidential and an analysis of the information they contain has not been conducted by the agency.
“We are not a law enforcement entity, and our role in regulating cannabis is to ensure licensee and registrant compliance with Maine’s adult and medical use of marijuana laws,” Heidrich wrote in response to a request for information on crime reports at cannabis businesses. “Thefts and burglaries are crimes, and the best source for information about criminal activity is and has always been law enforcement.”
An executive at Tetrapoint LLC, a South Portland-based cannabis security firm that transports pot and cash for cannabis businesses, told the Portland Press Herald that many companies are lulled by Maine’s reputation as a low-crime state into being complacent about security. But he said that the threat to cannabis businesses still exists.
“The tendency is to say, the bank’s only a half-hour away, why would we pay people to drive there?” said the executive, who requested anonymity to prevent being targeted for robbery while he’s on the job. “We have clients who are next door to a bank, and they still utilize our services.”
The executive also noted that despite pot’s continued illegality at the federal level, many local police departments are treating cannabis businesses just like other crime victims.
“In several different communities, we’ve found that local law enforcement are very friendly because it’s driving new business,” the security executive said. “Some folks may not be particularly happy about the industry, but it’s here, it’s now and it’s happening.”
A new group, known as Protect Maine’s Cannabis Consumers, said last week that “it will work to raise public awareness about the Maine medical marijuana industry’s lack of regulations and urge the Legislature to mandate both product testing and so-called track-and-trace requirements, closing what it says is a ‘dangerous loophole,’” according to the Portland Press Herald.
The group is drawing attention to a peculiar disparity between the state’s two cannabis programs. As the Press Heraldnoted, while the adult-use recreational program, which debuted in 2020, requires tracking and testing, the medical cannabis program, which Maine voters legalized back in 1999, does not.
The president of the advocacy group, Kevin Kelley, said at a press conference on Friday that the inconsistent requirements between the two cannabis programs “defies common sense.”
Erik Gundersen, director of the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy, told Maine lawmakers in November that there was persistent illegal activity within the medical cannabis program.
As reported by the Bangor Daily News at the time, Gundersen said his office “has fewer ways to regulate the medical use market than the recreational market for which retail sales started just last year,” and that it “would be helpful if there were tools to ensure that cannabis grown in the medical program stayed within it.”
The newspaper reported that Gundersen believes “there’s more illegal activity connected to the state’s medical marijuana industry and that his office has few tools to prevent medical cannabis from finding its way to the black market.” With only 12 field investigators, Gundersen said his available resources are not “sufficient for performing the necessary level of oversight when the investigators are only getting to registrants every four to five years.”
In August, Gundersen announced the formation of the Marijuana Working Group, which was tasked with making recommendations intended to strengthen the state’s longstanding medical cannabis program.
Gundersen’s office said that the working group would be “composed of at least 16 external members who represent Maine’s medical marijuana industry, cannabis patients, public health system, and towns and cities,” who would “advise on regulatory issues, best practices in patient access and education, contribute to ongoing improvements in Maine’s medical cannabis program.”
The Office of Marijuana Policy said it was seeking “at least five registered caregivers, two registered dispensary representatives, one marijuana testing facility representative, one products manufacturing facility representative, three qualifying patients who are not also registered caregivers, two individuals representing municipalities in Maine, and two relevant health care professionals” to serve on the working group.
“We look forward to the opportunity presented by convening a group of well-qualified individuals in pursuit of a shared goal to both preserve patient access and support the regulated marketplace,” Gundersen said in a press release at the time. “Our vision as a cannabis regulator has always been to develop a good faith partnership with our stakeholders by establishing rules and policies that provide interested consumers with access to a regulated industry.”
But the calls for tougher rules and requirements have been met with resistance from some corners of Maine’s medical cannabis industry.
The Portland Press Herald noted that the industry “has pushed back against testing and tracking requirements for over a year, expressing concerns about the cost, both to the providers and their customers,” most notably a proposed track-and-trace system that cannabis business owners successfully lobbied against in the legislature.
The state of Maine is determined to preserve its requirement that cannabis businesses be owned by its own residents, bringing the dispute into uncharted legal territory.
First, some background. Officials in the Pine Tree State “originally required all medical and recreational cannabis businesses to be owned by residents,” as the Portland Press Herald explained in an article.
But that requirement was challenged last year by Wellness Connection of Maine, the state’s largest chain of medical cannabis dispensaries that had sought a license for a recreational cannabis dispensary in Portland, the capital city of Maine.
Wellness Connection, which is owned by a Delaware-based LLC, filed a lawsuit against the city of Portland after council members there approved an ordinance capping the number of licenses for adult pot use dispensaries and establishing a system that gave preferential treatment to local applications.
Matt Warner, an attorney for Wellness Connection, argued that the requirement was unconstitutional, saying that as “a matter of constitutional law, states and cities can’t discriminate against citizens of other states based purely on residency.”
“More than 25 percent of the points awarded through Portland’s competitive licensing process are based on residency, so we’re automatically disqualified for those points, based purely on our owner being from Delaware,” Warner said at the time.
The company argued in its filing that limiting “the opportunities for (Wellness Connection) to create a brand, build a reputation and establish customer loyalty in Portland at the adult-use market’s inception would harm them in ways that cannot be reduced to a monetary damages award.”
The state stood down, eventually doing away with the requirement for recreational cannabis businesses, and in August, a federal court sided with Wellness Connection in a ruling that overturned the in-state residency requirement for medical marijuana dispensaries.
That decision, from U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Torresen, has set the stage for the latest round in the dispute between the state and Wellness Connection, with Maine seeking to uphold its requirement that medical dispensaries be owned by residents.
The Press Herald reported that it “appears the case is the first of its kind to reach a federal appeals court, where the opinion could have ramifications in other states,” with the central question hovering over “whether the residency rule violates the U.S. Constitution by restricting interstate commerce.”
In her ruling back in August, Torresen said that the “notion that the medical marijuana industry in Maine is wholly intrastate does not square with reality.”
“I recognize that none of the courts that have confronted this specific constitutional issue have rendered final judgments, and it also seems that no circuit court has addressed it,” the judge wrote, as quoted by the Press Herald.
“But given the Supreme Court’s and First Circuit’s unmistakable antagonism towards state laws that explicitly discriminate against nonresident economic actors, I conclude that the Dispensary Residency Requirement violates the dormant Commerce Clause.”
The appeal has been filed by both the state of Maine and a nonprofit industry group called the Maine Cannabis Coalition, which is in favor of the residency requirement.
In briefs filed in the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the state says that “the dormant Commerce Clause does not apply to Maine’s intrastate market for medical marijuana.”
“Nor do the residency requirements in the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Act burden interstate commerce more severely than Congress, because Congress has already eliminated that market,” the brief said, as quoted by the Press Herald. “Because striking down Maine’s residency requirements at issue in this case would do nothing to expand legal interstate commerce in the United States, they should stand.”
The top cannabis official in Maine sounded the alarm this week on illicit conduct tied to the state’s medical marijuana industry and illegal cannabis.
Erik Gundersen, director of the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy, made the comments to the Maine Legislature’s Marijuana Advisory Commission, which held a meeting on Tuesday.
The Bangor Daily News reported that Gundersen told the commission that “he believes there’s more illegal activity connected to the state’s medical marijuana industry and that his office has few tools to prevent medical cannabis from finding its way to the black market,” saying his office has 12 field investigators who are far from “sufficient for performing the necessary level of oversight when the investigators are only getting to registrants every four to five years.”
Gundersen noted that “the vast majority of caregivers in the medical marijuana industry are following the rules,” but that illegal activity nevertheless persists.
Recreational and medical marijuana are both legal in Maine. It was reported that Gundersen told the legislative commission that his “office has fewer ways to regulate the medical use market than the recreational market for which retail sales started just last year.”
Voters in Maine legalized medical cannabis all the way back in 1999, and they did the same for recreational marijuana in 2016—although that law’s rollout was stymied by opposition from former Maine Gov. Paul LePage, who was staunchly opposed to legalization.
LePage vetoed legislation in 2017 that would have implemented the voter-approved law, but lawmakers in the state overturned his veto the following year.
In 2018, Maine voters elected a different governor, the Democrat Janet Mills, who moved quickly to implement the new marijuana law. Mills signed legislation in June of 2019, months after being sworn in, that helped finally implement what voters had sought years earlier.
Gundersen said at the time that one of “the main goals of cannabis legalization is to diminish the illicit market.”
“The strong month-over-month growth here in Maine, just seven months after the official launch of the industry, suggests more and more consumers are choosing the tested, tracked, and well-regulated market over the illicit market,” Gundersen said then. “That is a positive sign for Mainers’ health and for the viability of the industry. With Maine’s busy summer season upon us, our effective regulation of the industry will continue.”
In August, the state doubled that total, pulling in more than $10 million in recreational pot products.
Despite those successes, Gundersen’s comments this week served as a reminder of the resilience of the illicit marijuana market, even in states and cities that have embraced legalization.
In California, for example, where voters legalized recreational pot use five years ago, “fully legal weed makes up just a fraction of the state’s marijuana market, with some experts estimating that 80 to 90 percent of cannabis sales in California still fall into a legal gray zone,” according to a report last week by National Public Radio.
Gundersen said Tuesday that it is “certainly one of the underlying objectives of a legalized market to eradicate the traditional market.”