Easy Steps to Becoming a Maine Medical Cannabis Patient
As Maine’s medical cannabis program has grown over the last 17 years, program requirements have also evolved. For patients wanting to enter the legal medical program, finding accurate information can be the most daunting part of the process. Here, we outline the easy steps to becoming a Maine Medical Cannabis Patient!
Step One: Identify your qualifying condition
Maine’s list of conditions that qualify a person to use medicinal cannabis is as follows:
Positive HIV/AIDS status
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Lou Gehrig’s Disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis)
Agitation of Alzheimer’s Disease
A chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment that produces cachexia (vomiting), severe nausea, seizures (such as those characteristic of epilepsy) or severe and persistent muscle spasms (such as those characteristic of multiple sclerosis)
Intractable pain (pain that has not responded to ordinary medical or surgical measures for 6 months or more)
Step Two: Discuss your decision with your primary care physician and request a certification
In Maine, any M.D., D.O., or Nurse Practitioner may issue medical cannabis certifications. These certifications cannot be written on a regular prescription pad. Your provider will need to visit the program regulators’ website (linked here) and read the “Medical Marijuana Certificate Process” section. The state will send the doctor special forms to use for certifications and directions for accessing the online web portal through which the certifications are issued.
It is important to know that your primary health care provider may work for an agency that does not allow them to issue certifications for cannabis. In this case, you may decide to schedule an appointment with a cannabis specialist in private practice. A quick Google search will show several reputable options here in Maine. These specialists should ask to review your medical records, and may want to be in communication with your primary care provider to coordinate your treatment plan. Appointments with cannabis specialist practices are typically paid out of pocket; some providers offer a sliding scale and discounted rates for veterans and other populations.
Step Three: Choose a source for your medical cannabis products
In Maine, patients can possess up to 2.5 ounces of “prepared” medical cannabis products every 15 days, and can choose among three legal avenues to obtain medical cannabis products.
Dispensaries: There are eight state-licensed dispensaries in Maine, including four operated by Wellness Connection of Maine, in Brewer, Gardiner, Portland, and Thomaston (moving to Bath in late August). Others are located in Biddeford, Auburn, Ellsworth and Fort Kent.
Dispensaries are storefront facilities which are required by law to grow and produce all the medicines they offer. They are inspected by state regulators; provide seed-to-sale inventory controls; are forbidden by law to use unapproved pesticides; and have no legal limit on the number of patients they may serve.
A dispensary will offer a variety of types of cannabis, and many options for methods of ingestion from traditional dried flowers to edibles, beverages, oils and topicals such as salves. These products are available at various price points, and dispensaries also offer discount programs to seniors, low-income patients and veterans. Most also offer a selection of pipes, vaporizer pens, books and other products helpful to both new and experienced patients. Dispensary staff members are experts at educating newer patients and helping them make the best selections among a wide range of options. Some dispensaries offer home delivery services.
Because there are only eight of them in Maine, dispensaries may not be geographically convenient for some patients.
Caregivers: There are an estimated 2,400+ individual “caregivers” around the state. Unlike the traditional health-care meaning of “caregiver,” these persons register with the state in order to legally grow medical cannabis for up to 5 patients. Originally, medical cannabis caregivers were envisioned as growing plants at home and providing for a single family member or close friend; over time, legislative efforts and unregulated activity has expanded the original definition.
Unlike dispensaries, caregivers are not regularly inspected by state authorities. There can be wide variances in product quality and variety from one caregiver to another, and in the level of education they provide to patients. Therefore, some patients find that they must try partnering with several caregivers before finding the right fit.
Home growing: Maine’s medical cannabis patients can grow their own cannabis; up to 6 flowering plants at a time. This can be done indoors or outdoors (outdoor gardens must be fenced and secure, and meet other requirements for nuisance abatement). There is no clearly legal way to obtain seeds or young cannabis cuttings, so patients who choose this option may receive their “starts” as a gift from another patient.
Patients who are seriously ill may not be able to manage the needs of their growing cannabis plants. Those who live in apartments, subsidized housing, or dense urban areas may find it challenging to maintain security and discretion, particularly during the flowering stage.
You will receive two certification cards from your doctor; one stays with you, and the other is given to the dispensary or caregiver you designate to provide your medicine. (If you grow your own, you will keep both cards.) If you choose to change providers, your dispensary or caregiver must return that card to you so that you can give it to your new provider.