Is Maine’s Medical Market Facing a Crisis?

Stephen Andrews
16 Jan 2024

All reports in the last few years suggest that Maine’s recreational cannabis market is growing, while the medical segment is shrinking. Things have been particularly difficult for medical cannabis caregivers, a crucial part of Maine’s medical marijuana market. Oversaturation and falling prices of wholesale flower have made it impossible for a lot of caregivers to stay in business, thus they’re leaving the sector en masse.

Thousands of caregivers have left the medical cannabis program in Maine since 2021, a year that coincides with the rise of the recreational market in the Pine Tree State. 

The “mass exodus” of medical cannabis caregivers indicates there is a big crisis at the heart of the Maine cannabis market. It’s important to note that Maine’s medical market was born out of the small caregivers market, where keeping a close patient-provider connection has always mattered.  

A 2023 report from the Maine Office of Cannabis Policy showed that more than one-fourth of individuals registered with the state to supply medical marijuana for patients have quit between 2021 and 2023. More specifically, it concerns a number of 1,350 caregivers who’ve left the sector, and just a few hundreds who’ve joined in. 

Before 2021, the number of people with this occupation in Maine was always above 3,000. The number has plunged to 2,070 as of March, 2023, and at the end of the year, it stood at 1,763, according to state data

Little Room Left for Caregivers in an Overcrowded Market

The huge dip in the number of caregivers in Maine’s medical cannabis program largely owes to the issue of oversupply, which has halved the price of cannabis flower between 2020 and 2023. It’s currently less than $8 per gram. 

As prices of flower have continually fallen, the number of cultivation sites and licensed shops has grown steadily. Maine currently houses 89 licensed farming sites and 121 licensed recreational pot shops. In addition, another 66 farms and 93 stores are at various stages in the approval process. 

The state’s medical cannabis program has 106,000 registered patients. The medical market used to outpace the adult-use market  by a larger margin, but the difference in monthly sales between the two segments has been rapidly closing.

Jackson McLeod, CEO of Atlantis Farms, which runs a medical dispensary in Portland, and a new recreational weed shop Thomaston, emphasized on the importance of the medical cannabis for Maine, in particular the role of caregivers. 

“That continues to be very powerful for us,” McLeod told the Portland Press Herald. “It’s something where Mainers have benefited from Mainers working with Mainers and the real medicinal benefit from the plant. I wouldn’t want to see that lost through the recreational use market.” 

State regulators agree that the biggest issue facing medical retail is oversupply of marijuana. The excess of produce has led to the massive drops in wholesale price of flower, which has created a difficult environment for caregivers to endure operational costs in times when utility costs are going up. 

An obvious pointer for oversaturation in the Maine cannabis market is that despite the departure of thousands of caregivers, supply has remained unhinged. 

Caregivers Are Also Adversely Affected by New Regulation

Last fall, Maine’s medical cannabis caregivers as well expressed their concern about new rules being introduced with the state medical cannabis program. 

An upgrade in the legislation demands new security protocols for retail stores such as fencing and video footage retention. In addition, the state has enhanced its ability to penalize for violations. Examples include a fine of up to $7,500 for each major registration violation concerning public safety, and up to $3,000 for other smaller breaches.  

Andelena Henderson, founder of cannabis retail dispensary West Paris Provision, and who works with disabled veterans, described the new legislation proposal as “a direct attack on shops like mine and on medical patients.” 

“The OCP is hiding behind claims of being beneficial for the health and safety of Mainers when in reality it means to achieve their agenda, which is the death of medical cannabis in Maine,” she told Business of Cannabis

The new rules are also complicating the eligibility criteria to get a medical cannabis card in Maine. Patients will need to undergo an in-person medical exam instead of doing a phone interview, which could bring additional costs for patients, none of it covered by medical insurance. 

It’s too many factors at play, and indeed, none of it seems to support the work of Maine’s medical cannabis and its caregivers program.

Also read on Soft Secrets:

Maine Profits $200M from Recreational Weed in 2023

When Am I Eligible for Medical Cannabis?

- Study Measures Quality of Life in MMJ Patients

Stephen Andrews