On Tuesday, Office of Marijuana Policy (OMP) Director Erik Gunderson issued a guidance memo that seeks to answer a number of questions related to operation and licensing of medical and adult-use marijuana businesses in light of the COVID-19 (“coronavirus”) pandemic. The OMP memo answers several questions that I have received from caregivers and others throughout the state. The key takeaways from the memo are below:
(1) Medical marijuana operations exempt from shutdown
On March 18, Governor Janet Mills signed an executive order that prohibits discretionary gatherings of 10 or more people statewide, and closes dine-in facilities at all restaurants and bars. Governor Mills’ guidance also strongly urges the shutdown of all non-essential public-facing businesses, but clarifies that businesses that provide “essential services,” including “pharmacies and other medical facilities,” are exempt from this directive.
OMP has clarified that, because caregivers and dispensaries are considered “other medical facilities,” they are exempt from the recommendation to shut down.
The OMP memo notes that caregivers and dispensaries are still subject to other state and local directives, such as municipal restrictions on hours of operation, so medical cannabis providers should be alert for additional guidance.
(2) OMP to continue medical marijuana licensing, prioritize assistant applications
The memo also clarifies that the Maine Medical Marijuana Program (MMMP) will continue to operate and process applications, even as most of its employees work remotely. Importantly, the OMP will prioritize caregiver and dispensary assistant applications, to help address staffing shortages as employees self-quarantine or remain home to serve as caretakers for family members.
OMP expects assistant applications to take no more than one week to process, which is a sharp reduction from the average processing time of around four weeks caregivers and assistants have seen in recent months for all applications. It is unknown whether this may result in a slight delay for other types of applications.
(3) Compliance inspections will continue unabated
Despite concerns among the medical marijuana community related to potential transmission of COVID-19, OMP stated that its compliance inspections will continue. Inspectors have been directed to call ahead to determine whether a registrant or any assistants have experienced recent illness.
Considering medical professionals have stated it is possible for people to carry COVID-19 without symptoms for between 2 and 14 days, and considering the ease with which the virus is transmitted, it remains to be seen how effective these precautions might be in practice.
In my practice I have noticed that, if anything, the OMP has been conducting more inspections over the past couple weeks rather than less. The Department has recently hired four additional inspectors and appears to be ramping up regular and complaint-based inspections, perhaps in preparation for the rollout of the Adult Use Marijuana Program (AUMP).
(4) OMP to continue adult-use marijuana licensing, but may miss spring launch target
In light of recent events, I have received numerous questions about whether or not the adult use marijuana industry will launch this spring as planned. The OMP memo states that AUMP licensing is still in full swing, and the OMP expects it may issue additional conditional approvals as soon as this Friday.
However, in addition to the state, municipalities must also issue local authorization to would-be adult use establishments. The memo notes that due to the disruption of many municipalities’ own operations – notably including the communities that would host the first adult use testing facilities – final approval for the first adult use establishments, and the rollout of the AUMP, may be delayed.
The memo assures readers that the OMP will immediately notify the public if it becomes apparent that the spring launch target no longer appears viable.
It appears that OMP is taking steps to ensure the continued operation of the Medical Marijuana Program, and is working to ensure the Adult Use Marijuana Program can roll out this spring as planned, or as soon as possible. In the meantime, caregivers and dispensaries may operate as usual, though they should take care to implement proper sanitization and social distancing measures at their facilities.