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Bill would recognize pot, hemp as food under the 'Right to Food' amendment

Patients say the legislation is key to protecting their medicine, while regulators say it would crush the regulated market.

AUGUSTA, Maine — In November 2021, voters passed the nation's first 'Right to Food' amendment to the constitution allowing Mainers to harvest food of their choosing.  

But should cannabis and hemp be recognized as food protected by that amendment?

That's the question before Maine lawmakers as they consider a bill that would also eliminate central restrictions on medical and personal use.

Samantha Brown's daughter Kaylee has Dravet Syndrome, a rare and severe form of epilepsy, resistant to most medications. But medical cannabis has greatly reduced her seizures for nearly 10 years.

"We have much more quality of life. We can go places. We are not stuck to our home 24/7 without going to the emergency room or calling 911," Brown explained.  

Brown extracts her daughter's medicine, which ingests from a tincture, from cannabis plants grown by a caregiver. But she says an increasingly overregulated market threatens Kaylee's access to the medicine she needs. That's why she wrote a bill that would recognize cannabis and hemp as food protected under the Right to Food amendment under the constitution.

"I just want to make sure that I always have the ability to grow her medicine," Brown added. 

Brown, patients, and medical caregivers testified in favor of LD 1686 before the Joint Standing Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs earlier this week. Derek Shirley relies on cannabis for his ADHD and is also an advocate.

"Give them the right to do it. Give them to right to do it," Shirley testified. 

The bill's sponsor, Senator Eric Brakey, says cannabis and hemp would be grown for personal use only, and cannabis sales are not permitted. He also called into question existing laws regulating cannabis if lawmakers approve recognizing it as food.

"Is it constitutional to limit the number of plants an individual can possess cultivate, transport, or transfer without remuneration?" Brakey testified. 

The bill drew strong opposition from the Maine Municipal Association, which called the legislation an attempt to inset the legality of cannabis into the constitution.

"This proposal is an attack on our democracy and the will of voters in communities that have not allowed cannabis businesses to operate," Rebecca Lambert said. 

While regulators say the bill would harm licensed cannabis operations. 

"This is not hyperbole. Rather, it's the consequence of letting any person with access to the state of Maine without any oversight from any part of state government," John Hudak, the director of the Office of Cannabis Policy, said.

The bill has been referred to a work session that could take place in the next several weeks.

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