Speaking of delivery — another factor in the dispensary-caregiver debate is geography. In a big, rural state like Maine, the individual caregiver who runs an operation out of his or her home is an essential option.
"There's no way that all the people who are sick are going to be able to drive to those eight dispensaries," Jake says. "A lot of people need and want that one-on-one relationship."
And while the financials may be off-balance, it's still possible to make a living — and to drive new money into the economy — as a caregiver. In addition to providing jobs to carpenters and electricians (who can help build grow rooms) and employees at grow shops (two indoor plant stores opened last year in Portland and more than a dozen others popped up around the state), being a caregiver provides personal security. Jake, the caregiver from Washington County, says, "I definitely think that someone who is able to take care of five patients will be able to make a decent paycheck — about $500 to $800 a week."Keeping it local
With DHHS capping the number of dispensaries at eight for now, the big-box versus small-scale argument won't get much bigger than it already is. But if the list of qualifying medical conditions is expanded (to include Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, for example; see sidebar, "A Medical Perspective"), many more patients than the anticipated 2100-plus will join the rolls.
And what about when the marijuana market opens even wider? Munjoy Hill representative Diane Russell is currently drafting pot-legalization legislation, one that points to how weed-taxation and -regulation could save money (on law enforcement and corrections costs) while collecting revenue from an untapped source.
"We have a real opportunity to bring a black market product onto the real market, and be able to tax it and regulate it," Russell says, adding that she wants "to make sure we're . . . keeping it local."
"It's a question of looking down the road to the inevitable situation when this stuff is going to become fully legalized," Leavitt says. "We need to convince a lot of people that the best model for this to move forward — the most sustainable model — is the caregiver model."
A medical perspective
Dr. Dustin Sulak is an integrative healthcare practitioner in Hallowell who has fielded more than 4000 medical-marijuana inquiries since the new law went into effect, and who has written more than 1000 medical-cannabis recommendations. Last month, he spoke at an informational meeting in Auburn hosted by Remedy Compassion Center founders Tim and Jenna Smale.
What follows is an edited transcript of our e-mail interview (he refers to medical marijuana as "MMJ").
IS MAINE'S MEDICAL MARIJUANA LAW COMPREHENSIVE FROM A MEDICAL PERSPECTIVE? DOES IT ACCOMMODATE ALL PATIENTS AND POTENTIAL CIRCUMSTANCES? ARE THERE AREAS WHERE IT FALLS SHORT? The law is not comprehensive from a medical perspective. There are no psychiatric diagnoses on the list of qualifying conditions, and there is much evidence that cannabis and cannabinoids can help conditions such as PTSD, ADD/ADHD, and depression. It is too specific in some ways, for example Crohn's is covered but Ulcerative Colitis is not — these two are very similar and MMJ can help one as much as the other . . . The list goes on.