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Maine Has No Medical Cannabis Testing Requirement. Health Advocates Urge Change.

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Maine Has No Medical Cannabis Testing Requirement. Health Advocates Urge Change.


Keri-Jon Wilson started as a hobbyist, making medical marijuana edibles on a small scale for patients suffering from chronic pain and cancer. But in 2015 she expanded her business, Portland-based Pot + Pan Manufacturing, and began to standardize her products.

“Eventually you’ve got to kind of grow up and decide if you want to grow the business, and add those additional steps and processes and best practice that comes with growth,” she said.

Despite no requirement in Maine to test medical cannabis for content or potency, Wilson has tested all of her batches since 2021.

The medical cannabis program in Maine is governed by separate regulations from the adult use, or recreational, program: While the adult use program requires testing for contaminants and potency, and includes potency limits, the medical use program requires neither.

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Public health advocates and state officials want to see testing requirements aligned across both programs, but efforts to mandate testing have been met with strong pushback from the industry.

State Report

Last fall, the state’s Office of Cannabis Policy released a report pushing for required testing in the medical cannabis program, but lawmakers instead pursued broad legislation intended to reduce stigma around the cannabis industry that largely loosened restrictions in both the adult use and medical programs.

The resulting legislation, which takes effect this month, aims to make regulations around cannabis closer to those around alcohol by eliminating ID checks at the door, allowing minors to go into stores with a parent or guardian and allowing samples.

Wilson says it’s worth the additional cost to ensure the safety and quality of her product, as well as to check her processes and ensure consistency.

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One time, lab results showed that an edible had five times the amount of THC it was supposed to have, 50 mg instead of 10. What could have been a large discrepancy in dose was caught before it left the building and never made it to the shelves, she said.

While she’s grateful there are strong lobbying groups on behalf of the medical cannabis industry, and she noted that many operations are transparent and safe, Wilson said it is alarming that there is such limited oversight for a medical product.

When she tells counterparts in other states that there are no testing requirements in Maine, “their jaws drop.”

“The reality is in the absence of those checks and balances, you really are just taking people’s words (for it) and that’s where it gets a little muddy,” she said.

Consumer Laws

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Matt Wellington, associate director of the Maine Public Health Association, said he thinks the way to reduce stigma around cannabis use is to impose consumer protection regulations that ensure Mainers know they have accurate information about the products.

“Lawmakers have to see that the way forward for cannabis in Maine is to make sure that folks can have confidence in the products that they’re using, that the products are deemed safe, (and to) strengthen the oversight of the medical program, and make sure that we have common sense protections like testing and potency limits,” Wellington said.

Catherine Lewis, who’s on the board of the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine — a nonprofit advocacy group that represents medical cannabis patients, growers and manufacturers — pushed back on the idea that caregivers are refusing to be regulated. The term “caregiver” in this context refers to those who can cultivate, manufacture and sell medical cannabis to qualifying patients, other caregivers and dispensaries.

Lewis, herself a caregiver, said she would support mandatory testing but only under certain conditions. She has concerns about the consistency and accuracy of lab testing, and worries the expense of testing could push small-batch caregivers out of business.

Lewis wants the state to set more explicit testing standards for private labs to ensure their processes are the same, and she doesn’t think the medical program should be subject to as rigorous testing as the adult use program due to the smaller size of their operations.

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“The state has refused to meet us in the middle with the testing requirements so we’ve had to fight to kill it completely,” she said. “If we allow them to put the laws in place the way they have for adult use, the medical industry and smaller producers would crumble, and patients would lose access to their medicine.”

Regulatory Debate

The medical cannabis program in Maine evolved before the adult use program and has separate regulations. When the medical use program was started in 1999, there were fewer businesses and they were small operations.

After Maine voters approved recreational marijuana use in 2016, there was an extensive public process to establish regulations and protections, which were adopted in 2019.

The state requires that recreational marijuana products be tested in their final form before they are sold to check for mold, toxins and other harmful chemicals. The products are also checked for THC potency and homogeneity; the potency limit for edible cannabis is 10 mg per serving.

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The field of medical cannabis has no testing requirements nor potency limits.

Linda Frazier, who was involved in the regulatory process for the adult use program in 2019 as a public health consultant, said the intention was to establish a regulatory framework for the recreational program, then to update the medical use program to align with the new framework.

But the medical cannabis industry pushed back, Frazier said, voicing concern about changing the regulations too much and too fast, and worried about the financial impact on businesses.

“Right now the loudest people in the room the committee is listening to and the legislature hears from are medical providers,” Frazier said. “They’ve become very organized and their message has been very clear that to implement more restrictive marketing and testing … has a fiscal impact on them that they feel is unnecessary and unfair. They’ve been very successful with that messaging.”

Lewis, with the caregiver group, said it would not make sense to require the same level of testing for the medical cannabis program as the adult use program because the medical caregivers often are home-based programs and make small batches, so extensive testing requirements would significantly cut into their profit margin.

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Instead, she said manufacturers should be required to test the oil before making a product, then spot-check final products and ensure the dose calculations were correct. She suggested that any product that has not been tested could be labeled “not tested.”

Testing Requirements

John Hudak, director of the Office of Cannabis Policy, said one of the first things he noticed when taking over in 2022 was the medical program lacked a testing requirement, despite hearing from patients assuming there was one.

“We kept hearing from the medical cannabis industry to essentially just trust them that everything was clean. We decided to test that question and provide as much information as we could to medical patients,” Hudak said.

Last fall his office tested 120 samples from medical cannabis sellers across the state and found 42 percent had at least one contaminant that would have prohibited them from being sold on the recreational market, including pesticides, heavy metals, yeast and mold. The most common pesticide detected, myclobutanil, “releases cyanide gas upon combustion and causes a range of mild to severe effects when inhaled,” according to the report.

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Lewis, with the medical cannabis industry group, said she had concerns about the sample size of the report and wondered what precipitated the test when she had heard few stories about patients getting sick from the products.

Hudak said he has not conducted a similar study on the potency of medical cannabis, but his agency has tested products on a case-by-case basis when consumers raised concerns. In a recent example, he said an edible that was supposed to be 10 mg tested at 120 mg.

Overconsumption is rarely fatal, but can include nausea, vomiting, intense fatigue and even hospitalization, Hudak said.

Other States

Testing is required for medical programs in most other states, he said, calling it the national standard. A 2022 study from Safe Access, a medical cannabis patient advocacy organization, found that of the 35 states with medical cannabis programs, Maine was one of the two without required testing. The other was Louisiana.

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Hudak said he believes the opposition in Maine is a small but vocal minority that has been able to stave off previous attempts at regulations.

Rather than piecemeal changes to the medical program, Hudak said a massive overhaul is needed. The program is “wildly outdated,” he said, and a testing requirement would be a good place to start.

In response to concerns about the cost of testing, Hudak said the price of recreational marijuana has decreased despite the rollout of mandatory testing requirements. An OCP dashboard shows the average price per gram of bud/flower decreased from $15.83 to $7.30 between 2020 and 2024.

“If producing uncontaminated cannabis — that is demonstrated to be uncontaminated — is too expensive, you probably shouldn’t be producing medicine for patients,” he said.

“Absolutely,” Lewis said in response when The Monitor shared his comment. “But who is to say it’s contaminated?”

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She said she’s sent portions of the same sample to different labs; it passed one lab and failed another. Without set standards from the state, she worries about the consistency of the lab results.

Hudak’s office studied this question by examining nearly 8,000 potency test results for cannabis flower at three certified labs over a two-year period and found “the variation in potency is explained by the cultivator and not the cannabis testing facility.”

Safety Monitoring

Barry Chaffin, co-founder of Nova Analytic Labs in Portland, said he has many medical caregiver clients who voluntarily test their products to monitor safety and quality. In the last year, Chaffin said he has tested about 80 recreational and 190 medical accounts.

In the recreational industry, a producer must select a sample from each batch and get it tested before selling it, Chaffin said. If the batch fails, it sometimes can be remediated. For example, if cannabis flower failed for microbials, there might be a way to kill the microbes. Other contaminants, like heavy metals, can’t be remediated and the client would have to destroy any batch where they are found, Chaffin said.

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There’s no potency limit for recreational cannabis flower, so if it tests at a higher potency than expected, the product would simply be labeled at the higher dose. There is a potency limit for edibles, so if those exceeded the limit, they would need to be remade or destroyed, he said.

Chaffin said there should be a regulatory framework for testing in the medical cannabis program, but like others noted that the pushback from industry groups has been strong.

“There are a lot of politics at play when it comes to any kind of regulatory framework on the medical program,” he said. “There’s some very strong feelings on having it regulated and there’s very strong feelings against having it regulated.”

Lewis said the medical and adult use industries worked well together during the past legislative session, but they don’t want to see the programs merged because they serve different populations.

“They are overregulating adult use and under-regulating medical,” she said. “It would be nice to see it meet somewhere in the middle.”

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This story was originally published by The Maine Monitor and distributed through a partnership with The Associated Press.

Copyright 2024 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Maine state trooper injured after cruiser rear-ended, hits vehicle he pulled over during traffic stop

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Maine state trooper injured after cruiser rear-ended, hits vehicle he pulled over during traffic stop



7/20: CBS Weekend News

20:51

A Maine state trooper is recovering after he was rear-ended by another vehicle during a highway traffic stop on Saturday night, authorities said.

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The cruiser that Trooper Patrick Flanagan was in spun around and hit the vehicle he had pulled over. Flanagan and the two other drivers suffered non-life-threatening injuries, Maine State Police said in a news release.

Flanagan’s emergency lights were activated on the southbound Maine Turnpike in Biddeford when his cruiser was struck, police said.

Maine Trooper Injured-Crash
This photo shows a Maine State Police trooper’s cruiser rear-ended at a traffic stop on the state turnpike in Biddeford on July 20.

Maine State Police via AP


Flanagan and the 25-year-old driver of the vehicle that struck his were taken to hospitals. The driver was issued a summons.

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The circumstances that led up to the crash are under investigation, police said.

It was the third vehicle crash into a state police cruiser within 48 hours, according to police reports.

The other two crashes happened in Gardiner and Gouldsboro, CBS affiliate WGME reported. There were no injuries in the other two.



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Ask Maine Audubon: Digital photography allows for closer study of rare birds

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Ask Maine Audubon: Digital photography allows for closer study of rare birds


The ferruginous hawk seen in Auburn last week was a rare bird sighting that was on nobody’s radar. The open habitats of the grasslands and deserts of the west are ideal for the ferruginous hawk. Photo by Gary Jarvis

Summer is not when we typically think of rare birds showing up in Maine. This newspaper has given great coverage to many of the vagrant birds that have strayed to Maine over the years, but most of those are tied with migrations in the spring or fall, or sometimes after storms. Among the list of rarities, Maine has hosted a few raptors in recent years that have attracted large crowds, notably the Steller’s sea eagle over the winters of 2022 and 2023, and the great black hawk that frequented Deering Oaks Park in Portland in 2018. A western marsh harrier found on North Haven in August 2022 was another bird not on anyone’s radar, so while no one would have ever guessed, it feels like we shouldn’t have been surprised when a ferruginous hawk was found in Auburn last week – the first record for New England.

With the Steller’s sea eagle coming from eastern Siberia, the black hawk from central America, and the marsh harrier from Europe, perhaps we were due for a rare North American raptor, albeit one from the grasslands and deserts of the west, that rarely strays east of the Mississippi. These open habitats are ideal for ferruginous hawks, which would explain its attraction to the Auburn-Lewiston airport where it was found by local birders Christine Murray, Gary Jarvis, and Camden Martin.

One of the coolest trends with modern birding, which has really come thanks to advances in digital photography, is the ability to match photos of known individuals between locations. When a rare bird is seen in two different areas, historically we would have only been able to guess that it was one individual, or would have assumed they were two different birds. Our detection rate of rare birds must be incredibly low. After all, what are the odds of an out-of-range bird being seen by someone, that person knowing that it’s a rare bird, or even taking a photo, and then reaching out to a state bird records committee or local Audubon. It must be well below 1% of all the vagrants that occur.

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Now, with really good digital cameras becoming more prevalent, we often end up with hundreds of photos of a single rare bird, capturing all angles and many feather details. For example, there are 2,241 photos of the Steller’s sea eagle in the Macaulay Library database (tied to Cornell’s eBird records) from that one bird’s time in Maine. With these photos, we can start matching unique feather patterns to other nearby sightings and sometimes we get a match. The Steller’s sea eagle had unique markings on its wings that matched it to a long string of records across the country before getting here. Our great black hawk was matched with photos from Texas (officially the first time the species had been detected in the United States), four months before being found in Maine.

All this leads me to point out that the unique markings on groups of underwing coverts (the little feathers that give the wing shape) on the ferruginous hawk’s wings, seen in Auburn, match perfectly with one that was seen in southern Ontario, on the shore of Lake Erie in early May. Where has this bird been since then? Why is it here? We may never know.

I do want to acknowledge the identification challenges with these birds. After rare bird sightings hit the news or social media, we always receive a bunch of reports, almost always of similar-looking species. The ferruginous hawk is similar to our abundant red-tailed hawks, though larger (15-20%), and the Auburn individual is one of the light color morphs, so it shows a very pale head and almost entirely unmarked white chest and belly, unlike the darker red-tails. I encourage anyone who thinks they see a rare bird to get a photo and send it to naturalist@maineaudubon.org.

These are some fascinating examples of rare raptors that have shown up in Maine, all coming from vastly different places. That’s one of the fun aspects of this hobby. We are constantly learning new things from these birds. Advances in technology through photography allow us to get high quality images and social networks spread the word out to observers quickly. Following the path of a bird well outside its typical range leads us to wonder how it got here and why, and that’s where the fun comes in.

Have you got a nature or wildlife question of your own? It doesn’t have to be about birds! Email questions to ask@maineaudubon.org and visit www.maineaudubon.org to learn more about birding, native plants, and programs and events focusing on Maine wildlife and habitat. Doug and other naturalists lead free bird walks on Thursday mornings, 7 to 9 am, at Maine Audubon’s Gilsland Farm Audubon Sanctuary in Falmouth.

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Harris gets back on the trail as Biden recovers from COVID

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Harris gets back on the trail as Biden recovers from COVID


PROVINCETOWN, Mass./REHOBOTH BEACH, Del. — Vice President Harris was back on the campaign trail this weekend, raising money for the Biden-Harris ticket on Cape Cod while President Biden remained sidelined by a case of COVID in his beach house in Delaware.

In a large tent near the the harbor, hundreds of Democratic donors cheered and waved fans imprinted with “Veeptown” — a play on P-Town, as the beach town known for its LGBTQ history and community is called.

Harris focused on former President Donald Trump’s policies that removed protections for discrimination for LGBTQ people for health care, employment, and students and his ban on transgender military service.

She said Trump’s running mate, Ohio Sen. JD Vance, “undoubtedly will be a rubber stamp for Trump’s extremist anti-LGBTQ agenda,” citing legislation he proposed that would ban gender-affirming care. That prompted a yell of “Go get ’em, Kamala!” from one of the donors.

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Erin Schaff/POOL/AFP via Getty Images / AFP

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Vice President Harris visits a new ice cream shop owned by supermodel Tyra Banks with her grand-nieces on July 19, 2024 in Washington, DC.

Harris is in the spotlight as Biden is sidelined

The fundraiser came as the future of Biden’s campaign is in question. A disastrous debate against Trump three weeks ago fueled a growing chorus of calls from Democratic party officials and donors for Biden, 81, to end his bid for a second term and let a younger candidate take over. Biden has insisted he will stay in the race.

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Harris has not publicly engaged in the debate, and did not mention it in her Provincetown remarks. She praised Biden, saying she was “testifying” that he fights for “everyday working Americans.”

But some of the lawmakers asking Biden to step aside have been testifying that Harris should be at the top of the ticket.

On Saturday, Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., called her a “tenacious prosecutor” with the experience to beat Trump. “Joe, I love you and respect you. But the stakes are too high to fail. It’s time to pass the torch to Kamala,” Takano said in a statement.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. — who has not called for Biden to leave the race — said Harris would unite the party if Biden changes his mind, and praised her for her work on economic issues and abortion rights. “Look — if you’re running against a convicted felon, then a prosecutor like Kamala is really a good person to make that case,” Warren said on MSBNC.

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President Biden exits Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware after he had to leave the campaign trail due to testing positive for COVID.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP / AP

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President Biden exits Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware after he had to leave the campaign trail due to testing positive for COVID.

Biden has said he’ll be back on the trail this week

Biden had been pushing back on concerns about his age and abilities, doing a flurry of events in swing states, as well as as a solo press conference and several interviews. But that came to a halt when he tested positive for COVID last week.

His doctor said in a memo on Saturday that Biden’s symptoms are improving, though he still has a cough. Since the Republican National Convention ended, the pace of Democrats asking Biden to leave has picked up.

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Campaign spokesman Michael Tyler told reporters on Saturday that the president would be back out on the trail next week once he gets the green light from his doctor.

Copyright 2024 NPR





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