In the four weeks that Maine’s adult-use cannabis market has been open, numerous medical marijuana retailers have either wholly transitioned or have taken steps to begin serving recreational customers. Now in the age of adult-use sales, marijuana is undoubtedly more accessible and acceptable than ever before in Maine, but asks the question of what this means for the many patients who rely on the state’s medical program.
Unlike some legalized states who allow both medical and recreational marijuana sales in the same storefront, Maine cannabis retailers cannot offer both under the same roof, and therefore must choose between the two. This puts some medical storefronts in a tough position: they can choose to dive headfirst into a recreational market that experienced four years of setbacks, political squabbles, and out-of-state influence before even beginning, but has the potential to improve significantly over time. Or, they can continue to serve medical patients, which has been a thriving market for years and even saw more success during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, but now must compete with shops that are much more accessible due to not requiring a medical card.
This is especially significant considering Maine’s status as a tourism hub that attracts far-fledged visitors who may have no need or interest in a medical card, but want to experience legal marijuana. Other factors such as increased overhead and initial product shortages are notable deterrents for those interested in transitioning to recreational, but the fact remains that many see the accessibility and legitimacy that adult-use sales bring as the end goal.
It has been shown in other legal states that the introduction of adult-use cannabis can correlate with the decreased availability and variety of medical marijuana products. In Maine, this seems especially likely; medical marijuana has been a leading industry in Maine for years, but up until now it was the only legal way of working in the industry. The idea of being able to sell to any adult, as opposed to only those with medical cards, is extremely appealing for many operations and with the state’s current policy of having to decide between the two, it is inevitable before some of the state’s most well-known medical storefronts makes the switch, a move that would have negative implications for patients.
While marijuana sold recreationally is not unable or less effective in its ability to provide medicinal benefits, many patients require certain strains and/or specific qualities found in certain strains to alleviate their symptoms. These strains often are not practical, financially sensible, or easy to grow, creating a potential problem situation where medically beneficial strains will be avoided in favor or more physically appealing strains that will sell better.
The Maine medical marijuana program is particularly easy to participate in, with no list of qualifying conditions, excessive costs, or long waiting periods; nearly any adult resident can schedule a video-conference and receive a temporary medical card the very same day. While this low bar for entry is absolutely essential to allow for the most amount of people to benefit, it can and often does distract from the reality that many people do not get their medical card as simply an access pass into the state’s thriving marijuana scene, but have a medicinal need for cannabis’ healing properties beyond what is commonly available in not only other marijuana, but more traditional medicine.
Scott, owner and operator of Strain Keeper Medical Services (SKMS), is very familiar with this concept and works to guarantee that those seeking alternative medicine through cannabis can find success. Founded in Portland in 2014, SKMS is a medical marijuana operation which specializes in providing patients with clean, organic living-soil grown medication capable of treating a vast array of both mental and physical ailments. In addition, SKMS offers patient assistance beyond most others, such as personalized addiction, dietary, and chronic illness counselling resources.
Among the most significant differences setting SKMS apart from others is their choice of plant genetics. Utilizing landrace genetics in combination with modern growing standards, SKMS has carved a niche for themselves in the Maine cannabis community. As for where he got his start in cultivating landrace genetics, Scott simply credits growing up in the “old world of coastal Maine”. He describes them as “relatively stable strains, native to a specific geographic area in the world, typically cultivated wild there for many hundreds or even thousands of years by the same peoples native there.” Continuing he states, “Basically, every strain on the market these days is a hybridization of these original landrace strains, much of which started in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and then really accelerated through the 70’s and 80’s.”
Due to the lack of genetic diversity in those strains, especially compared to modern hybrids, there is significantly more predictability in regards to effects, which is particularly helpful in assisting those unfamiliar or inexperienced with cannabis medicine. This reliability comes with the price of often not being well-suited for large-scale production or indoor growing, which is a major contributor in their scarcity in today’s markets.
While the genetics of each strain are mostly responsible for the plant’s medicinal aspects, how those elements are processed and subsequently administered also plays a major role in it’s success with patients. Scott and the SMKS team utilize a whole-plant approach to their medicine.
Whole-plant, or full-spectrum, processing refers to using the entire cannabis plant in the creation of medical products, as opposed to only using the flowers or isolating certain compounds. The effect provided by this technique is known as the Entourage Effect, which is the idea that the presence of other compounds other than THC can be beneficial in providing the medicinal aspects of marijuana. Through their years of research and real-world application, Scott and the SKMS team have determined that whole-plant medicine provides superior performance and consistency in the treatment of patients for a wide variety of symptoms and ailments. While success has been found with isolation methods, such as CBD isolate tincture or THC-A isolate concentrates, those at SMKS feel strongly that the relationships between the compounds are just as important as the compounds themselves. Combined isolate, the substance created when certain compounds are separated and then later reintroduced, acts much differently compared to true whole-plant medicine. Scott credits this for why products advertised as “full-spectrum” sometimes perform no differently than combined isolate or distillate products: “as it is essentially molecular soup, the secondary and tertiary relationships are previously fractured, and are non existent,” and therefore do not benefit from relationships in the Entourage Effect.
While some would argue that not all marijuana has to be up to the standards of medical marijuana, there is a slippery slope in regards to where the line is drawn, quality wise. If non-profit-driven methods such as growing landrace strains or utilizing whole-plant processing are deemed unnecessary outside of specifically helping patients and therefore unavailable for adult-use. it is likely that other techniques and processes will become increasingly scarce as the adult-use market progresses. As the number of recreational storefronts grow, the competition and demand increases and it becomes more likely that only financially-rewarding decisions be made. As with any industry, product variety and quality will suffer when profits, convenience, and meeting demand become the main factors driving production.
For this reason and others, many feel animosity towards those operating in the recreational market. Scott differs from some in that he holds no negative view regarding recreational cannabis, but is realistically wary about large-scale, profit-driven operations and the kind of corners that are often cut in an effort to reduce costs. He sees it as an opportunity for those hesitant or unable to get a medical card to explore plant medicine in a way that is comfortable for them, which at the end of the day is the goal of SKMS. That being said, Strain Keeper Medical Services will continue to operate for the medical program, though certain SKMS products have the potential for being brought to the recreational market in the future.
Maine Potcast Contributor