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National advocacy group forms to give small cannabis businesses a voice

Mark Barnett is the founder of the Maine Craft Cannabis Association, one of six state organizations part of the National Craft Cannabis Coalition.

PORTLAND, Maine — After a blazing summer of sales for Maine's cannabis industry, the slow season has arrived for local stores across the state.

Maine is closing in on two years of allowing adult-use or recreational sales to anyone over 21. While both adult-use and medical markets have their own advantages, they also share similar struggles.

“The voices of smaller businesses, the voices of farmers, the voices of customers, are very often completely ignored in cannabis policy," Mark Barnett, founder of Higher Grounds and the Maine Craft Cannabis Association, said on  Wednesday.

Barnett has owned Higher Grounds, a coffee shop and medical store on Wharf Street in Portland, for a few years. Recently, he's become a leading cannabis advocate in Maine.

Barnett teamed up with similar organizations all over the country to give Maine shop owners, farmers, and customers more of a voice and create the National Craft Cannabis Coalition.

The Coalition comprises groups from California, Oregon, Washington, Vermont, and Massachusetts.

The first agenda item for the new group is to help small businesses grow their brand. Barnett said the coalition is supporting a new bill introduced in Congress that would allow those businesses to ship their products to other states.

“We really need to be able to share the amazing talent and expertise we have here with the rest of the country," he added. “Our state has the best legal cannabis in the country. I absolutely believe that.”

The major hurdle standing in the way before the bill can take effect? Cannabis needs to be legalized at the federal level. 

Peter Ingram is the CEO of Maine Cannabis Exchange, which has both a medical and adult-use store. Ingram said there have been challenges facing the industry for years, and advocacy groups are one way to help the industry.

“I think there’s a misconception out there that cannabis businesses are reeling in the money, and it’s not true. Right now, we’re just trying to survive," he said. 

Ingram added banking issues and high taxes, among other challenges, really limit the cannabis market's ability to expand.

“I think it’s long overdue to have a loud voice because we’re up against a lot of powerful voices like the pharmaceutical industry and other industries that don’t really want cannabis to take hold," he added.

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