AUGUSTA — Medical marijuana dispensaries and caregivers are quietly lobbying state lawmakers to allow them to sell pot to recreational users before retail cannabis stores open in Maine next year.

Later this legislative session, lawmakers are likely to consider bills that could give segments of Maine’s well-established medical marijuana industry a potentially lucrative toehold in the recreational market. Supporters hope that Maine will follow the lead of states such as Colorado and Oregon, which allowed medical marijuana businesses to offer “early sales” of cannabis products to adults while policymakers worked out the details of licensing new businesses catering to recreational users.

Paul McCarrier of Legalize Maine, who grows medicinal pot, says he wants to ensure that caregivers – not just dispensaries – have an opportunity for
Paul McCarrier of Legalize Maine, who grows medicinal pot, says he wants to ensure that caregivers – not just dispensaries – have an opportunity for “early sales” of recreational marijuana.

But questions about who would qualify to participate in the temporary “early sales” marketplace could fan long-standing tensions between the few large, tightly regulated dispensaries in Maine and the state’s thousands of small, individual “caregiver” suppliers of medical marijuana.

“It has to be an equal playing field,” said Paul McCarrier, the president of Legalize Maine. He wants to ensure that caregivers – not just dispensaries – have an opportunity to participate.

Marijuana became legal for adults age 21 and over in Maine on Jan. 30. But the state is not required to begin accepting applications for retail marijuana sales licenses until February 2018 in order to give agencies and lawmakers time to draft rules and enforcement policies.

That has created a legal quandary for recreational users who can possess and use marijuana but still have nowhere to buy it legally. Their only options are to grow it themselves – adults can possess up to six flowering plants – or turn to the illegal black market. Adults also can “gift” marijuana to other adults in Maine.

David Boyer of the Maine chapter of the Marijuana Policy Project said an “early sales” marketplace is desperately needed and would help steer people away from the black…