On paper, Maine’s medical marijuana industry seems relatively small, with just eight dispensaries serving patients across the state.
But dig deeper and you’ll find a thriving business community that could serve as a model for other states with similar demographics. Maine is home to roughly 600 caregivers who collectively net an estimated $15 million to $25 million in revenues annually, according to an extrapolation of data provided by the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine (MMCM) and other sources.
That’s a sizable market for an individual looking to grow marijuana at home. And the opportunity is about to get a lot bigger.
A new law that takes effect Oct. 9 will add several other qualifying medical conditions to the MMJ list, including post-traumatic stress disorder, irritable bowel syndrome and ailments such as Parkinson’s disease. That will benefit both existing dispensaries as well as caregivers.
“We’re going to see a massive influx of patients – particularly veterans – come in,” said Paul McCarrier, a lobbyist for MMCM, adding that the number of new patients will likely be in the thousands. “As a result, I think we’re going to see a decrease in price and more competition, but at the same time there’s going to be a big increase in demand.”
McCarrier said full-time caregivers make an average of $30,000-$50,000 annually in revenue. After expenses, they can pocket anywhere from around $24,000 to upwards of $45,000 a year. With startup costs averaging around $15,000, the caregiver model is a viable small business opportunity for many residents of Maine.
“I believe this is a full-time job for over half of the registered caregivers in the state,” McCarrier told MMJ Business Daily.
While many other MMJ states allow caregivers, storefront dispensaries often serve the vast majority of patients. And those who do decide to go the caregiver route typically must hold down other jobs as well.
In Maine, however, caregiving has become a cottage industry in large part because of the unique characteristics of the state’s population and cannabis law in general.
“A lot of this results from Maine’s rural demographic,” McCarrier said. “The eight dispensaries in the state serve urban areas. But most of Main is rural, so that gives small farmers an opportunity to get involved.”
Indeed, a big chunk of the state’s estimated 12,000 patients live far from dispensaries, meaning they have to turn to caregivers to get their medicine. Under the law, each caregiver can serve up to five patients. The going rate for an ounce is between $200-$250 depending on quality and location in the state (that’s actually down from $250-$300 several years ago), McCarrier said, adding that patient spend is higher – sometimes significantly so – for caregivers than it is for dispensaries.
Additionally, a new aspect of the state’s MMJ law that went into effect this summer allows caregivers to have up to one employee. That further solidifies the business-like nature of the caregiving industry in Maine. It will also allow some patients with physical difficulties to become caregivers, as they now can get help with the more labor-intensive tasks like moving soil.
“These are true examples of microbusinesses, like lobstermen and blueberry farmers, that Maine is known for,” McCarrier said. “These businesses benefit the economy and the community as a whole.”