|Graphic: Maine Marijuana Policy Initiative|
|About 100 of the state's 500 caregivers have already joined the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine trade group.|
None of Maine's eight licensed dispensaries has opened yet, reports Susan Sharon at The Maine Public Broadcasting Network. But according to the Department of Health and Human Services, about 100 medical marijuana patients have registered with the state and another 100 are in the process.
Hundreds more patients are expected to sign up by year-end, according to Jonathan Leavitt, board chairman of Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine.
"Realistically the number probably is somewhere between 750 to 1,250 qualified patients in this state," Leavitt said. "And I think those numbers will bear out by the end of the year when people are actually required to register."
Many patients will soon access their medicinal cannabis at one of the eight new dispensaries allowed after Maine voters expanded the state's decade-old medical marijuana law. But for those who prefer anonymity, getting marijuana through a licensed caregiver is another option.
|Photo: Kevin Bennett|
|Jonathan Leavitt, Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine: "Due to the lack of overhead, the prices that patients are able to get through a caregiver network or trade association are going to be significantly lower than you're going to get from a dispensary"|
"We're here first and foremost to advocate on behalf of people's whose job this is," Leavitt said Thursday, reports Glenn Adams at Forbes.com. "We're also here to guarantee that patients get the best prices, and that's going to be done by forming real solid relationships with caregivers and helping them network to lower their prices."
Caregivers are allowed to grow and provide a limited amount of medical marijuana for as many as five other patients under the law.
Dues are $30 a month to join the medical marijuana trade association. The group already has an office in Portland Maine, a paid staffer, and plans for peer-reviewed organic growing practices and for patient-friendly legislation in the coming year.
About 100 of the roughly 500 medical marijuana caregivers in Maine have joined the new trade association, Leavitt said.
The group wants to remove Maine's mandatory registration requirement, according to Leavitt.
"We resent that," Leavitt said, nothing that recipients of other medicines don't have to be registered.
Members also want the right to possess more than 2.5 ounces of medical marijuana per patient, according to Leavitt.
Caregivers may also seek to become providers of cannabis to dispensaries, which are currently required to grow their own in an enclosed, secure facility. In the meantime, caregivers in the trade association will be able to offer lower prices than the dispensaries, Leavitt said.
"Due to the lack of overhead, the prices that patients are able to get through a caregiver network or trade association are going to be significantly lower than you're going to get from a dispensary," Leavitt said. "The dispensaries are talking about offering medicine at $350 to $400 an ounce. Caregivers are able to come down significantly from those prices."
Leo Trudel, executive director of Safe Alternatives, a dispensary in Frenchville, Maine, said his shop charges $250 an ounce. Trudel, an assistant professor of business at the University of Maine - Fort Kent, granted that quality assurance costs and the law of supply and demand exerted upward pressure on prices.
|Photo: Judy Beedle/Mainebiz|
|Rebecca DeKeuster, Northeast Patients Group: "We commend the efforts of the caregivers and look forward to opening our dispensaries in Maine to help relieve the suffering of Maine's seriously ill population"|
"Growing marijuana for medical use is not like growing tomatoes in your backyard," Trudel said.
Most of the caregivers he knows expect to charge less then $300 an ounce, said Fred Kessler, one of the caregivers who has joined the trade association.
"Would I tell a patient to use a dispensary? Absolutely not," said Kessler, who suffers from Crohn's disease and was a former unsuccessful applicant to operate a dispensary in Maine.
The trade association won't dictate how much caregivers charge, but Leavitt said if a patient isn't happy with the price of a particular caregiver, the trade association will help that patient contact someone else.
Leavitt said he didn't view the trade association as competition for the dispensaries.
Becky DeKeuster of the Northeast Patients' Group of dispensaries seemed to agree.
"The patient need for medical marijuana in Maine is significant," DeKeuster said. "We commend the efforts of the caregivers and look forward to opening our dispensaries in Maine to help relieve the suffering of Maine's seriously ill population."