The owners of a Belfast medical marijuana shop are going to federal court in an attempt to stop Maine from implementing new medical marijuana regulations next month.
Caregivers Justin Olsen and Nancy Shaw of New World Organics say the rules violate patient privacy and force caregivers to divulge confidential patient information to the state.
The caregivers and two of their unnamed patients – an injured combat veteran and a woman undergoing cancer treatment – filed the lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Bangor.
“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” Shaw said on Facebook.
In Maine, patients with a qualifying medical condition can use medical cannabis with a doctor’s approval. They get a card from the doctor, but they don’t have to register with the state.
The new rules allow the state Department of Health and Human Services to conduct same-day inspections of caregiver operations and inspect a patient’s house with a day’s notice.
Olson and Shaw believe the warrantless search of a caregiver’s grow, which is often located on their personal property, or a patient’s house is an unconstitutional search and seizure.
The plaintiffs say the state would learn of their patients’ identities during inspections, a violation of patient rights under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.
“Disclosure of records not only violates the privacy rights of the qualifying patients, it also subjects caregivers who disclose the records … to a civil fine of up to $50,000,” the suit says.
The suit asks the court to stop DHHS, the agency that oversees the state’s medical marijuana program, from enforcing the new rules, which are scheduled to go into effect Feb. 1.
The plaintiffs also say DHHS is violating the Medical Marijuana Act by adopting rules that set new state policy without legislative approval. By law, the agency can only make technical rule changes on its own.
The rules have previously come under fire from caregivers. Inspections may top their list of complaints, but they also oppose a ban on resale of donated marijuana and on in-home medical certifications.
Maine is cracking down on caregivers. Gov. Paul LePage and DHHS Commissioner Ricker Hamilton have singled them out when criticizing the medical marijuana program.
In addition to the new rules by DHHS, lawmakers are considering new medical marijuana bills, ranging from one that expands caregiver freedoms to one that puts a hold on new caregiver licenses.
Caregivers suspect Maine wants to end the medical program, perhaps by folding it into a new adult-use program. LePage asked lawmakers to look for areas where the two could be consolidated.
Olsen and Shaw could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Although their shop is located in Belfast, they also have had a presence in the Portland area. In 2015, they tried to host a medical marijuana farmers market festival in Deering Oaks.
The city initially approved a festival permit, but withdrew approval when organizers tried to amend the permit after officials saw ads for the event suggesting marijuana use at the festival.
In online advertising, New World Organics says it specializes in farm-to-table cannabis, cultivating eight to 12 strains of sun-grown and indoor marijuana at their in-house grow facility.
They have developed two of their own hybrid strains, Grom and Sour Girl, which, along with their other products, ranging from flower to rosin, are all tested by an independent lab.
Nancy Shaw and Justin Olsen, seen speaking to the Portland City Council in 2015 about their proposed New England Cannabis Farmers Market, have filed a lawsuit claiming Maine’s pending medical marijuana rules violate patients’ privacy and force caregivers to divulge confidential patient information to the state. (Whitney Hayward/Portland Press Herald)