Cannabis capitalism on the rise in Maine

Notice the sudden profusion of indoor gardening supply stores that sell everything from California bat guano to insulated grow tents?

They aren’t just catering to customers who want to grow tomatoes year-round. They have a far different end product in mind.

Medical marijuana is becoming big business in Maine and will be bigger after Sept. 28, when a host of improvements and eased regulations to the 2009 medical marijuana law go into effect.

One of the key changes is that patients who qualify under the law because they suffer from chronic and debilitating medical conditions will be able to protect their privacy by no longer having to register with the state.

They will have more convenient access to medicine, and certified caregivers who grow the herb will have greater protection under the law.

About 2,100 medical marijuana patients are registered with the state, as required by the 2009 law. That number is expected to increase once registration becomes optional, said John Thiele, manager of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services Medical Marijuana Program.

The business of pot

“There are absolutely a lot of people looking to get into this business,” said Jake McLure, a member of the board of directors of the nonprofit trade association Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine.

Look at indoor gardening supply stores, he said. Three years ago, there was one in the state. Now there are about 40, all popping up in the past year.

The trade group represents 160 caregivers who, by law, can each legally grow medical cannabis for up to five patients. The group provides education, information, networking opportunities and patient referrals and lobbies on behalf of its members.

The group was also a driving force behind the passage of LD 1296, “An Act To Amend the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Act To Protect Patient Privacy,” which had wide bipartisan support in the Legislature and was signed into law in June.

Hundreds of jobs have already been created since medical cannabis became legal in 2009. With eased regulations, entrepreneurs and national chains are jumping on the bandwagon, according to the association.

The caregiver business model will be the engine that generates the most revenue in the fledgling medical cannabis industry, McLure said. “That’s where the big boom is. People are contacting us every day, wanting to know how to get into it. The demand is there.”

He described it as a growing cottage industry that could help revitalize farming in Maine.

“When you think about it, our membership really represents 160 small farms,” he said.

The new industry also will provide needed revenue to the state in the form of sales taxes and annual fees for caregivers and dispensaries that range from $300 per patient per year for caregivers to $15,000 a year for dispensaries.

Attendance has been high at information sessions the association is hosting across the state to explain the new law, McLure said.

What is catching people’s interest is that with a $5,000 to $15,000 investment in equipment and materials, a prospective caregiver with a working knowledge of horticulture, time to devote to the job and the ability to provide a reliable supply of high-quality marijuana year-round could earn anywhere from $500 to $1,500 a week, McLure said.

Upcoming sessions will be in Portland and Augusta, at the Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association’s Common Ground Fair in Unity and at Harry’s Harvest Ball in Starks. For details, visit

Maine is on the cusp of a new industry, as a visit to upcoming trade shows will likely reveal. Hundreds of vendors and dozens of educational presentations will be offered at the first HOMEGROWNMaine trade show on Nov. 5 and 6, sponsored by the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine.

And the Maine Medical Marijuana Patient Center is planning its second annual Maine Medical Cannabis Expo to be held in April. Both events will be held at the Augusta Civic Center.

“To have two trade shows within six months of each other shows what a big business this is becoming,” McLure said.

Bigger tomatoes?

Farmington, with a population of about 7,200, is home to two high-tech indoor gardening supply stores that opened their doors within a month of each other this summer, with owners unaware they had a competitor across town.

Homegrown Connection on Front Street is owned by Luke Sirois, a licensed electrician and experienced caregiver, and his wife, Lisa. The Farmington couple manages a cooperative of fellow caregivers, Today’s Herbal Caregivers.

Full Bloom Hydroponic Gardening Center on Wilton Road, owned by Zachary Dulac, sells supplies and has a hydroponic demonstration vegetable garden in the store. Manager Dan Bernier, a licensed heating and plumbing contractor with experience in setting up hydroponic and soil-based growing systems, said business has been good, with about 60 percent of customers growing marijuana.

Both stores stock the latest technology in lights and ventilation systems, premier potting soils, high-powered fertilizers, organic pest and disease controls, and propagation products for cloning plants.

Merchandise is geared for producing indoor, nutrient-rich, water-based hydroponics and soil-based gardens. These products are not seen in traditional gardening centers and promise help growing plants 20 percent faster with 20 to 50 percent greater yield, Bernier said.

Caregivers band together

Today’s Herbal Caregivers cooperative has five caregivers, including Lisa and Luke Sirois, who independently grow cannabis crops for their five patients at secure, undisclosed, indoor locations in Franklin County.

They use 25 strains of medical marijuana that are tailored to patients’ individual ailments, such as pain or chemotherapy-related nausea, and are available in food, capsules, tinctures placed under the tongue and as an herb to smoke. Home delivery around the state is available, Sirois said.

A board member with the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, Sirois’ goal is to increase the number of caregivers to 20 and patients to 100 within the next 12 months. He also plans to expand to other communities.

The medicine costs from $180 and $285 per ounce, he said. Under the law, patients are limited to 2½ ounces every 15 days.

Prices range from $300 to $400 an ounce at the state’s dispensaries, which have higher overhead costs and are required by law to offer a sliding scale for low-income patients.

“To crank out high-quality medicine with a decent yield depends on the quality of the nutrients, your knowledge, atmosphere control, proper manicuring and drying the buds to perfection,” Sirois said.

“For patients, it is cheaper to grow your own as long as you know what you’re doing, are willing to make a $4,000 to $5,000 investment and can spend 15 to 20 hours a week tending to your crop,” he said. “Then they may have to deal with possible crop failure or power outages. People have to weigh the options.”

Medical pot the answer

One of Sirois’ patients, who asked to remain anonymous to protect his privacy, said he has suffered from work-related chronic back pain, tendinitis, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety and depression for years. He preferred to use marijuana rather than prescription painkillers, but when the state legalized it for medical use 10 years ago, there was no place to buy it.

The pot he used he either bought on the black market or grew himself, which landed him a seven-month jail sentence.

He said his 62-year-old brother has suffered from Crohn’s disease since he was 16 and has undergone more than six operations. To handle the pain caused by the severe intestinal disorder, he was taking three, 60-milligram doses of oxycodone, a powerful narcotic, every day under a physician’s supervision.

“In the past month, he got weaned off ‘oxy’ using marijuana, something people taking that much usually have to go to a drug rehab center for,” he said. “Now he takes marijuana every day in capsule form and is feeling good.”

Maine’s landmark law

A landmark citizen initiative made Maine the 14th state to have a medical marijuana law and one of a handful of states to have a dispensary system.

So far, five of the eight state-approved, nonprofit regional dispensaries have opened, and two are expected to start up within a few months in Portland and Hallowell, said John Thiele of the Maine Marijuana Program.

The state has about 500 registered caregivers, a number Thiele expects to increase with the eased regulations under the new law.

Nearly 300 licensed medical providers in Maine have certified patients as having debilitating medical conditions according to state law. Thiele said that figure will rise as doctors become more comfortable with the regulations.

“When people passed this law and approved medical marijuana, they all had the idea they wanted to help out people and members of their families with cancer or terminal illnesses or other debilitating problems,” Thiele said. “What we are doing is moving in that direction. We are making things easier for people to avail themselves of marijuana.”

Small business model works

McLure, of Maine Marijuana Caregivers, said patient feedback reveals they prefer the small business model of dealing with local caregivers.

“It is creating a horizontal framework of wealth distribution,” he said. “We envision a bunch of small mom-and-pop dispensaries and small farms spread out across the state taking care of the demand in Maine. It would make sure the revenue generation really does trickle down through all communities.

“This is about local people spending money in local stores to buy their material and equipment,” he said. “There is no way that kind of wealth distribution is possible with large dispensaries funded by an out-of-state corporation with hundreds of patients.”

via : Sun Journal

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