A consultant hired by the state to help guide oversight of Maine’s marijuana industry suggests it adopt a state-run testing program to bolster consumer trust, professionalize the role of bud-tender, and consider ways to regulate market prices to deter illegal sales.

BOTEC Analysis is also recommending ways to discourage excessive consumption, and protect both the industry and the tax revenue it generates. They are among the measures the state will consider when it presents draft recreational marijuana rules to the public Thursday in hopes of launching an adult-use market in 2019.

The Los Angeles-based consultancy also recommends beefing up testing and labeling of edible marijuana to force a “go low, so slow” approach on novice consumers and allow online sales and delivery to improve access for consumers, bring illegal street dealers into the legal market and protect neighborhoods from the impact of retail shops.

It also urges Maine to require growers to report environmental impacts, ban most forms of advertising, prohibit the sale of marijuana licenses to protect the diversity of the local market, ban hazardous extractions, and do away with a one-size-fits-all fine structure and set them instead as a percentage of total sales.

Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services paid BOTEC Analysis  $10,000 for its review of the draft rules developed by the state’s main consultant, Freedman & Koski of Colorado. BOTEC crafted Washington state’s recreational marijuana market, while Freedman & Koski launched Colorado’s.

The agency will present its draft rules to the public for the first time Thursday at Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland. The hearing will start at 8 a.m. and conclude only when all who want to offer an opinion have had the chance to speak.

From there, DAFS will consider amendments and present its proposed rules to state lawmakers for approval. The state Office of Marijuana Policy hopes to have the final version of the proposal to the Legislature before it adjourns for summer break, and begin licensing growers, manufacturers and retailers later this year.

Testing has proven to be “the weak link” in the regulatory system of other legal state marijuana markets, said BOTEC Chairman Mark Kleiman. Cultivators shop around for labs that provide the most favorable lab results, and labs, dependent on the industry’s business, are under pressure to deliver them, he said.

Consumers want more than just clean, safe marijuana, he said. The consumers who buy the most marijuana, and thus drive most of a retail shop’s business, want potent products high in THC, the psychoactive part of a cannabis product that makes a user feel high.

But potency can be difficult to pin down, especially with dried, smokeable flower. Results can vary depending on the kind of testing equipment and methods used. Two plants from the same harvest, or two buds from the same plant, can have different THC levels.

There are also ways to cheat, such as sprinkling a batch of dried flower culled from low-THC parts of the plant with high-THC parts, such as kief, which is another word for the resin glands that develop on flower buds that contain much of the plant’s terpenes and cannabinoids.

“The result is a set of THC-content estimates that many experts outright disbelieve,” BOTEC told Maine in its evaluation. ” ‘No, you just can’t make the plant do that,’ one botanist told me about a claim of 27 percent THC flower. Consumers, even as they chase potency numbers, are increasingly cynical about test results.”

Establishing a neutral testing program that consumers can trust will also help extinguish black market sales, according to BOTEC. In Washington state, BOTEC found the black market persists because marijuana users trusted their dealer’s assessment of the product’s potency more than a laboratory.

The state could develop a mystery shopper program to verify a product’s safety and potency and a lab’s work. Retailers who are caught repeatedly selling products with inaccurate potency results, and labs that pump out the misleading results, can be punished with product recalls, fines or loss of license.

BOTEC recommends Maine develop its own testing program, either within the state forensics lab, which are not always keen on testing marijuana, or the state university system, which often are. This will eliminate the risk that cultivators shop around for labs that provide the most favorable lab results.

To further protect customers, BOTEC recommends licensing bud-tenders, the retail clerks that work behind the counter at marijuana retail stores. Kleiman urges Maine to require months of mandatory training for the license in pharmacology, botany and the identification of substance use disorders.

BOTEC recommends banning customer tipping and sales quotas that could exert influence on a bud-tender.

If employing such highly qualified staff is too expensive for a retailer, or if there aren’t enough to go around during the early days of the market, BOTEC recommends starting off with just one credentialed bud-tender working in the store at all times aided by assistants, much like a pharmacy tech works with a pharmacist.