HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Some Dispensaries Not Too Thrilled By Legal Pot
Pubdate: Mon, 29 Apr 2013
Source: Morning Sentinel (Waterville, ME)
Copyright: 2013 MaineToday Media, Inc.
Author: Michael Shepherd


Legalization Could Shut Down Medical Pot Providers

AUGUSTA - Medical marijuana groups are wary of a bill that would 
legalize and tax marijuana in Maine.

Estimates nationwide suggest if marijuana were legal, much of the 
profit gained by medical retailers and black-market criminals would disappear.

That worries Glenn Peterson, the owner of Canuvo, a Biddeford 
medical-marijuana dispensary. He also serves as president of the 
Maine Association of Dispensary Operators, a trade group made up of 
five Maine dispensary owners.

Peterson said his group is concerned that the bill could "eliminate 
the medical marijuana industry" in Maine.

"I tend to be libertarian," he said. "On the other hand, I am quite 
protective of my dispensary."

Paul McCarrier, a lobbyist for Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, 
an advocacy group for state-licensed caregivers who grow marijuana 
for small groups of medical patients, said his group is opposing the 
bill. McCarrier said it would favor dispensaries through licensing 
requirements, which could regulate small-time growers out of existence.

"The scope of protections for the individual to cultivate for 
themselves is too limited," he said.

The head of a national group that has supported the Maine bill and 
similar proposals nationwide says his organization has run into 
opposition to legalization from medical-marijuana groups in other states.

Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for 
the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, said that "probably the most 
vexing thing that we're facing right now (in pushing for 
legalization) is not the government or law enforcement agencies," he 
said. "It comes from, oddly put, anti-prohibitionists versus 

The Maine bill to legalize marijuana, sponsored by Rep. Diane 
Russell, D-Portland, is a sweeping measure. Chiefly, it would allow 
those 21 and older to possess 21/2 ounces of marijuana and six plants.

It also would license cultivators, producers of products containing 
marijuana, retailers and laboratories, giving preference for 
licensing to officials at existing dispensaries.

David Boyer, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy 
Project, a nationwide group backing Russell's bill, said the 
provision to give preference to existing dispensaries was partially 
due to a drafting error in the bill, and he and Russell are open to 
amending it. Boyer has been lobbying legislators to support the bill.

Peterson said his group is lobbying for dispensaries to be granted 
automatic cultivation, retail and production licenses. He said it 
wouldn't oppose the bill then.

McCarrier said it isn't clear whether caregivers are on the same 
plane as dispensaries in the bill.

Russell's bill would assess a $50-per-ounce tax on cultivators, 75 
percent of which Russell has said she wants to divert to the state's 
General Fund. Under her plan, the rest would go toward substance 
abuse programs, marijuana research and implementing the act.

Only two states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized marijuana, 
and they did so in 2012 referendum votes. Marijuana possession is 
illegal under federal law, so even states with medical-marijuana 
programs are running afoul of that law.

In those states and others, legalization efforts ran into patches of 
opposition from medical-marijuana groups as well.

St. Pierre suggested that's because of economic protectionism: Simply 
put, when marijuana becomes legal, consumption will go up and prices 
will fall sharply.

McCarrier said it's not about protecting money, but protecting "the 
ability for caregivers to continue to operate."

Peterson said he sells marijuana for $360 per ounce; McCarrier said 
caregivers sell for between $175 and $250 per ounce. Street prices 
could be higher or lower.

A paper by a group of marijuana researchers published this month in 
the Oregon Law Review says the American marijuana market is a $30 
billion industry annually. But modern farming techniques could supply 
that demand for "hundreds of millions of dollars."

So, the paper says, most of those billions could be captured by 
businesses or states, but "only if competitive pressure does not 
drive prices down."

Peterson said he has hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in his 
operation, and he's not sure what would happen to it under legalization.

"I have no investors. I don't take a salary," he said. "But that's 
what you have to do to have a program in this state."

Medical marijuana wouldn't be taxed at $50 an ounce, according to 
Russell's proposal, and Boyer said he doesn't want to affect the 
medical system "in any bad way."

Still, "it's kind of an evil trade-off," Peterson said of the tax on 
recreational marijuana. "You can have it legally, but it's going to 
cost you." Russell has said the price drop after legalization would 
more than make up for the tax.

On taxes, a fine line would have to be walked to turn the average 
consumer to the new, recreational market. If the marijuana tax is too 
high, people will likely seek the black market or a doctor's 
recommendation for patient status, say many working on tax proposals 
in other states.

Colorado and Washington are establishing regulations for their legal 
programs. They are seeking to establish a tax system that strikes 
those balances.

According to The New York Times, Colorado is considering excise and 
sales taxes of up to 30 percent combined on recreational marijuana. 
In Washington state, the Times said three levels of taxes will be 
levied on producers, processors and retailers. Consumers will pay a 
44 percent effective rate.

The $50-per-ounce rate has been discussed in other places. California 
considered a bill that would use that rate in 2009, and lawmakers 
effectively killed it in 2010.

Beau Kilmer, a drug policy researcher for the RAND Corp., a nonprofit 
think tank, said there are a number of ways that regulators could tax 
marijuana, including per ounce and by the plant's chemical makeup.

However, it's too early to tell what would work best, so Kilmer 
suggests flexibility in the tax system.

"If large barriers are created to changing the taxes, it's going to 
make it a heck of a lot harder to update them based on new research," he said.

That lack of clarity makes Boyer, of the Marijuana Policy Project, 
wonder why some are opposing Russell's bill so soon, before a 
legislative committee gets to amend it.

"I'm a little disappointed that some people are jumping the gun on 
this bill before it's a final bill," Boyer said. "I think everyone 
would benefit from ending marijuana prohibition."

McCarrier said that philosophically, he could support legalization, 
but "the devil's in the details."

Peterson also said he could support the right plan, but "I would not 
want to do anything that disrupted the medical side of things. It 
really puts a death knell to the program."

For St. Pierre, the NORML director, the schism is particularly 
divisive for the overarching cause of his group for years -- totally 
legal marijuana.

"For me, it is a necessary but fascinating footnote in history that 
some of the most active opposition is oddly coming from those who are 
fellow travelers of the road, shall we say -- those who enjoy and use 
marijuana, be it for medical reasons or recreational," he said.
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