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Lawmakers push back on 'cannabis crimes unit'

The state also wants more regulations medical caregivers say will hurt their business and limit access to medicine.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The legislature's Criminal Justice Committee has shelved funding to hire four new Maine Drug Enforcement agents.

Supporters say a 'cannabis crime unit' is needed with a new adult-use market expected to get underway possibly later this year.

Opponents say adding more agents is a crackdown on crimes involving marijuana which is legal in Maine sends a wrong message to a brand new industry. 

The state is also trying to align the medical and adult-use programs under the same rules.

But critics say adding more regulations on a fast-growing medical cannabis market could hurt their business and limit access to medicine.

Rep. Charlotte Warren is the house chair of the legislature's Criminal Justice Committee. Members rejected the state's plans to spend nearly $650,000 for a new four-person division within the Maine Drug Enforcement Division. 

"Deciding to use the DEA to police something that is already legal will guarantee one thing more people in jail," Warren said.

"We have seen in other states that have rolled out recreational or adult-use markets that illicit activity increases with the legalized market," Erik Gundersen, the Director of the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy said.

The state also wants both the medical and recreational marijuana proposal to be under the same rules. This comes on the heels of news that the medical cannabis market brought in $111million of revenue last year, 75 percent from more than 2,500 licensed caregivers and storefronts. 

The majority of the state's 65,000 patients use cannabis-infused oils, tinctures and lotions that are extracted from the raw plant.

Many caregivers and patients perform extraction using food-grade alcohol. Susan Meehan provides low-cost medicine made with extractions for pediatric patients. The state wants to re-classify these extractions as hazardous which would require them to take place in commercial-grade labs which can cost up to $100,000 to install.

"You are attacking the people that are generating revenue instead of emulating a program that is working," Meehan said.

Marijuana policy officials tell NEWS CENTER after hearing from patients and caregivers, the state is now considering a proposal that would only require an inspection of extraction equipment by the Fire Marshall's office or a certified engineer

The legislature's appropriations committee still has to approve the decision not to fund additional DEA agents. Lawmakers on the Health and Human Services Committee could take up a 'compromise proposal' on extraction regulations in the next few weeks.

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