At present, there are two separate sets of rules governing marijuana in the USA. The first set governs the use of medical marijuana, and the second governs recreational marijuana. For medical marijuana, patientshave to go to a doctor and demonstrate that they have a condition which needs to be addressed with the help of medical marijuana. If they are able to do so, they can then get a permit or a medical marijuana card, used to “redeem” marijuana at medical dispensaries. For recreational marijuana, marijuana can be bought in stores or grown in residential areas. Each state has been given a choice to allow medical or recreational marijuana. Thus far, 8 states allow the use of recreational marijuana and 29 states allow the use of medical marijuana. The 8 states where recreational marijuana is legal are Oregon, Nevada, Maine, Alaska, Massachusetts, Colorado, California and Washington.
Recreational Marijuana in Maine
Maine currently has 8 licensed dispensaries, and a draft bill released in September 2017 lets these medical dispensaries also apply for permits to sell recreational as well as medical marijuana. The sale of recreational and medical marijuana could not take place at the same counter according to the draft bill. In many ways, this makes sense. There is no reason that medical dispensaries should be prevented from selling recreational marijuana, and medical dispensaries would be an ideal place to get high quality marijuana, due to increased expertise and experience in selling marijuana. Medical dispensaries would probably only sell top grade recreational marijuana and the idea makes economic sense, as well as being much more convenient.
Generally, medical marijuana is taxed much lower than recreational marijuana. Medical marijuana is taxed at 5%, while recreational marijuana is taxed at around 20%. Medical marijuana also has lower levels of THC than its recreational counterpart. According to Senator Robert Katz:
“We’ve got a lot of work to do yet on this bill…We’ve worked on it for months, but it’s a rough draft. There’s still a lot of unanswered questions that we have to work out. Some of those questions, we’re looking to the public for answers. We want to hear what they have to say. I’m sure it will be a vibrant discussion”
In general, it seems that politicians all over the USA are eagerly working on some form of marijuana legislation or another. This is because it is obvious that the public are predominantly pro marijuana, especially the ones that have sick relatives unable to access the medicinal herb. Politicians who are anti-marijuana at this stage will receive much negative press. Fanatic Jeff Sessions has received much criticism for his allegations that cannabis use results in increased crime and is a gateway to harder drugs. Especially in light of all available research and anecdotal data which indicates that cannabis is a gateway drug away from harder substances. When medical dispensaries close, numerous studies have noted that crimes decreases in the area.
A hearing on the bill will be heard on September 26th, and the committee will integrate public commentary before submitting the final proposal to the full legislature A full decision will be made in October. The reason why there has to be two separate counters is that there are different regulatory guidelines with regard to medical and recreational marijuana. Because of this it makes sense to have two separate lanes. While interaction is likely this will be discouraged.
A Number of Concerns
The bill has stirred up some controversy. Some caregivers have concerns about how the proposed bill would affect them, and fear the bill gives dispensaries an advantage in a fledgling market. This view is endorsed by Paul McCarrier, president of Legalize Maine, a nonprofit advocacy group that helped pass the statewide ballot initiative in the fall of 2017. McCarrier is one of more than a dozen lobbyists who have attended several months of drafting work. And indeed, there can be little argument that dispensaries are getting quite a sweet deal and would most definitely have an advantage over smaller businesses.
But there is no real reason why medical dispensaries should be unable to avail of recreational licenses. After all, it is a free market environment where the best will win out. Dispensaries did not get everything their way either. They wanted the privilege of selling recreational marijuana earlier than the draft bill allowed, but this did not succeed. Taking care of both medical and recreational marijuana might be a tricky operation. If the dispensaries can handle it while still providing an effective service, then let them do it. It does not serve the public interest to let smaller companies sell lesser quality marijuana at a higher price to the public in order to “help the little guy”. While some have argued that this bill puts the interest of “big marijuana” over public health, this does not hold water. If the marijuana is bad quality or overpriced, consumers have the choice of growing their own or getting marijuana from other companies. They have options, which is not the case where recreational marijuana is illegal and with heavy restrictions on medical marijuana. The concerns are overblown.