Maine Office of Cannabis Policy holds listening session in Waterville

Erik Gundersen, director of the Maine Office of Cannabis Policy, hosts a public session Wednesday night at the Best Western at 375 Main St. in Waterville. Maine’s cannabis industry continues to be one of the fastest-growing segments of the state economy, he says. The gathering was an opportunity for Gundersen to explain the latest developments in the industry and to receive feedback on state policies governing it. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

 

WATERVILLE — Cannabis cultivators, retailers of medical and recreational cannabis, legislators and others discussed regulations and related issues Wednesday night as part of a “listening tour” hosted by the Maine Office of Cannabis Policy.

 

The session, held at the Best Western at 375 Main St., drew about 70 people, and was the second in a series of meetings organized by the office, which was established in 2019 and is part of the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services.

The gatherings are designed to engage people in the cannabis industry and the public in conversations about the condition of the state’s two legal cannabis programs.

Erik Gundersen, director of the Office of Cannabis Policy, facilitated Wednesday’s meeting with Deputy Directors Vern Malloch and Lisa Roberts.

Gundersen said his office is always looking to improve what it does by speaking with a diverse group of stakeholders and those with whom it does not typically interact.

As a regulatory agency, its mission is to protect health and safety and ensure legal businesses have the ability to compete, thrive and survive, he said.

The office regulates the medical and recreational cannabis programs. Audience members discussed a variety of issues, including state versus municipal regulations, how to be updated in a timely manner about rule changes and the challenges dispensaries face with not being able to use banking services.

Because marijuana is illegal on the federal level, people who make their money working in the industry cannot legally put the money they make into banks, use credit cards to pay fees, pay online for applications and so forth, which presents challenges, they said.

Gundersen said the frustration is not lost on his office, and access to banking would solve problems.

“On the federal level, it’s illegal,” Gundersen said. “These credit card vendors won’t touch it.”

Erik Gundersen, director of the Maine Office of Cannabis Policy, hosts a public session Wednesday night at the Best Western at 375 Main St. in Waterville. Maine’s cannabis industry continues to be one of the fastest-growing segments of the state economy, he says. The gathering was an opportunity for Gundersen to explain the latest developments in the industry and to receive feedback on state policies governing it. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Maine’s congressional delegation sent a letter supporting the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act of 2021, also known as the SAFE Banking Act, which would allow financial institutions to do business with those who make their money in the medical or recreational marijuana fields if they are in states where it is legal, according to Gundersen.

But the Maine Legislature cannot change federal laws, state Rep. Colleen Madigan, D-Waterville, said.

After the meeting, Madigan said she supports the SAFE Banking Act because there are many people working in the cannabis industry in Waterville and elsewhere.

“I think there are things that are legal like alcohol that are far more dangerous,” she said. “I think that, historically, how we define drugs — legal or illegal — hasn’t always been fair or based on science. Sometimes, taking a harm-reduction approach, and education, is helpful.”

Republican state Sen. Scott Cyrway of Albion, who represents District 16, disagreed with Madigan, who serves on the Substance Use Disorder Committee and the Health & Human Services Committee and is a licensed clinical social worker.

“It’s federally illegal, so how can you?” Cyrway said of allowing money from cannabis to be processed by banks. “The (Food and Drug Administration) regulates certain drugs, and if you don’t follow FDA regulations, how do you say it’s OK? We’re sworn to uphold federal and state laws. Federal supersedes state, so I don’t know how it is legal.”

Many in the audience introduced themselves only by their first names. One medical marijuana provider named Alex said he had to turn away a patient from out of state because that state was not on the list of states whose residents may receive cannabis from Maine.

“I was shocked because I’d never run into that before,” he said.

Malloch said if that happens again, Alex could call or email the office and someone would help.

“We have done outreach to these states,” Malloch said.

Wednesday’s meeting was a way for the public and those in the cannabis industry to talk directly with office staff members and others who have an interest in seeing a flourishing cannabis market in Maine, according to state Office of Cannabis Policy officials.

Matt Grondin, that office’s director of media and stakeholder relations, said the first meeting on the tour was held in June in Biddeford. Other monthly meetings are scheduled for Bangor in August, Ellsworth in September and Presque Isle in October.


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