Maine’s jump in MMJ caregivers shows interest in rec industry

The number of registered caregivers licensed to grow medical marijuana for patients in Maine increased by 42% in 2016, a sign to some that people are hoping to gain experience in the MMJ industry to gain “a leg up” once permits become available for the state’s new adult-use program.

The jump also is a sign that more patients are turning to cannabis to treat maladies such as chronic pain, the Portland Press Herald reported.

And it indicates that Maine’s legal dispensaries face growing competition from the state’s caregivers. Once the only cannabis suppliers to Maine patients, caregivers have competed since 2011 with eight state-regulated dispensaries.

According to the Press Herald, licensed MMJ caregivers in Maine increased from 2,277 in January 2016 to 3,244 by the end of the year. The increase is even more dramatic when compared with figures in 2011, when there were 211 licensed growers/caregivers in the state.

The numbers should be welcomed as good news by supporters of Maine’s medical marijuana industry, whose necessity has been questioned by Gov. Paul LePage since voters in November approved a recreational cannabis program that is expected to launch in 2018.

Industry experts also said the increase suggests some caregivers – who can each grow for up to five patients – are readying for the launch of the rec market.

“I think there are … people who want to get into the adult-use industry, and the only way for them to get legal experience is through the medical marijuana program,” Paul McCarrier, a co-author of Maine’s recreational cannabis law and an MMJ caregiver, told the Press Herald.

According to Maine regulators, 51,324 medical marijuana certificates were printed for patients last year, although it’s unclear how many of those certificates were replacements versus new ones. Maine started tracking MMJ patient numbers in 2016 but doesn’t keep a registry of their names, the Press Herald reported.