Maine’s senior marijuana official said on Tuesday that he believed there was more illegal activity linked to the medical marijuana industry and that his office had few tools to prevent the medical cannabis from ending up on the black market.
The comments from Erik Gundersen, director of the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy, follow accusations made public two weeks ago against 13 people accused of orchestrating the illegal sale of $ 13 million of medical marijuana grown in the western Maine to people outside of the medical marijuana program both in Maine and out of state. Current and former cops, a managing director and a former selection man are among the 13 indicted in the massive Farmington-based operation.
While the vast majority of caregivers in the medical marijuana industry follow the rules, illicit activity takes place there, Gundersen told the Maine Legislature’s Marijuana Advisory Board.
âIt’s a question of economy. You can do the math fast and easy, âGundersen said. “I imagine it’s easy to veer into the grayer area.”
But the Marijuana Policy Office has taken an approach of expanding access to regulated and legal markets in Maine rather than a more law enforcement-focused approach, Gundersen said. This approach has been informed by comments from the legislature and from industry, he said.
When the bureau proposed a “seeds for sale” tracking system as part of a larger set of regulations for the medical marijuana industry in Maine in January, the industry responded with an almost universal opposition.
These rules never materialized after the legislature voted to effectively stop them and require the office to consult with medical marijuana caregivers and patients before changing the regulations. Lawmakers also submitted most of the future office rules to the legislature for approval.
Charges arising from the operation in western Maine brought attention back to those decisions earlier this year, drawing criticism from Scott Gagnon, who is the public health representative for the Marijuana Advisory Board and among the people who interviewed Gundersen on Tuesday.
âAt best, this has been loosely regulated,â Gagnon said of the medical marijuana industry in Maine last week. âThe ingredients are all there to make it happen. “
Although law enforcement has not been the explicit goal of the Bureau of Marijuana Policy, in recent weeks – as well as another illicit transaction for which a Lewiston man was sentenced federal government six years earlier this year – showed the office needed to take a multi-pronged approach, Gundersen said.
Gundersen’s statements show that while the office takes the Farmington Ring seriously, it is keenly aware of the constraints of regulating an industry that has fiercely resisted surveillance. The Bureau of Marijuana Policy did not respond to multiple attempts to comment on the charges last week.
The bureau has fewer means to regulate the medical use market than the recreational market for which retail sales began last year, Gundersen said. It would be helpful if there were tools to ensure that the cannabis grown in the medical program stays there, he said.
He noted the ability of Maine’s two cannabis programs to spill over into the state’s âtraditional market,â referring to the black market for marijuana that continues to thrive statewide even after legalization.
âRight now it’s just a lack of transparency tools to be able to define what markets are,â Gundersen said.
Black markets continued to exist in other states that also legalized marijuana. In California, which legalized medical and recreational marijuana long before most other states, the illicit market continues to dominate commerce.
âIt is certainly one of the underlying goals of a legalized market to eradicate the traditional market,â Gundersen said. “And that’s one of the things that I think, here in Maine, we struggle with.”
While the Office of Marijuana Policy has 12 investigators in the field, Gundersen said that was not enough to perform the level of oversight needed when investigators only reach registrants every four to five years. Even then, they might not be able to identify the illicit activity, he said.
The office frequently notices or receives reports of illicit activity within the industry, Gundersen said. The office immediately returns these reports to law enforcement, then its level of involvement in the investigation depends on the case.
âThere is a direct transfer to local law enforcement,â Gundersen said. âIt really is a cinch if there is any follow-up with the Bureau of Marijuana Policy. ”