Medical marijuana providers say new reforms adopted by the state Legislature in July that went into effect Dec. 13 pave the way for broader access for patients and increased safety and quality control of the product. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

A new medical marijuana law takes effect Thursday that industry experts said will give patients broader access to cannabis, make the drug safer and make the laws easier to enforce.

The law, LD 1539, was passed in July by the Legislature over a veto by Gov. Paul LePage. Among other things, it removes the cap on how much cannabis can be sold in medical marijuana dispensaries and authorizes municipal control over the industry.

“This sweeping reform was much needed,” said Patricia Rosi, CEO of the Wellness Connection of Maine, the largest provider of medical cannabis in Maine with dispensaries in Portland, Brewer, Bath and Gardiner. “It opens the market to collaboration between businesses so we can now obtain other products.”

Before the new law, cannabis businesses could not sell products to each other. With the new law, caregivers also can have a store, Rosi said, which removed a gray area of the previous law.

“These changes will dramatically improve a municipality’s authority to safely govern and enforce cannabis laws and ordinances,” Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling said in a statement. “The improvements are critical and will lay the base as the state and the city of Portland work toward creating a safe and legal cannabis market.”

The new law also opens the door to broader use of the drug. Medical cannabis has been legal in Maine since 1999, but only patients suffering from a short list of pre-approved medical conditions could legally become certified.

Now, anyone with a medical certification from their health care provider can buy medical cannabis.

“Cannabis saved my life,” Jessica Coakley, a 34-year-old mother from Orono, said during a celebratory event Thursday at Wellness Connection of Maine’s Portland dispensary.

She was injured during childbirth, prescribed opiates and became addicted.

“I couldn’t leave my home or be the mom my son deserved,” she said in a statement released before the event. “These reforms will expand access and could be the difference between life or death for some.”

Other changes in the new law include:

— The sales amount is increased to 2.5 ounces per visit, up from 2.5 ounces per 14 days.

— Municipalities gain local control to decide whether or not to accept cannabis businesses.

— Medical cannabis providers may now sell up to 30 percent of their total amount grown to other legal providers, increasing access and selection for medical cardholders.

— The law keeps all protections for medical cannabis cardholders to prevent arrest or prosecution for legal cannabis use. No certified cardholder will be denied their privilege to use medical cannabis by employers, schools or landlords.

— The law improves security by creating the authority to randomly inspect medical cannabis providers without notice.

— It improves the safety, transparency and compliance for the drug’s use by enhancing standards on labeling, dosing, seed-to-sale tracking, on-site security and bookkeeping.

— It allows medical testing facilities to operate and requires lab verification of label information on all cannabis products.

Rosi said some of the precedent set by the new law may help shape regulations for the use of recreational cannabis, which Maine voters passed in 2016. Recreational licenses are not expected until late 2019 at the earliest.

State regulators are in the early stages of determining the rules needed to govern that adult-use part of the industry.

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Lori Valigra

Lori Valigra, senior reporter for economy and business, holds an M.S. in journalism from Boston University. She was a Knight journalism fellow at M.I.T. and has extensive international reporting experience...