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MarIjuana PetItIons Fans of legalized recreational use of marijuana turn in ballot-measure signatures at Portland City Hall. City voters approved the measure.

This weekend, the region’s largest medical marijuana convention series makes its first sojourn north to Maine. The New England Cannabis Network will hold the two-day event at the University of Southern Maine, giving the public the opportunity to engage with medical marijuana dispensaries, doctors and caregivers, as well as more than 60 local and national cannabis industry businesses and retailers with products for sale.

A previously planned convention in Maine was pushed back due to scheduling troubles, according to Marc Shepard, co-founder of NECANN, but the success of earlier shows in Boston and Providence encouraged their push to have it here.

“The first one in Boston in February was over-the-top crazy. Even with all the snow on the ground, we had about 6,000 people come through in two days,” he said. “We had planned to have one in Portland in June, but we had so many scheduling problems we put it off until the end of the year.”

The two-day event, held at the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus, includes a variety of medical marijuana panels, workshops and lectures led by industry experts.

“If you are a marijuana patient or looking to be one, or are looking for more information, it’s a great place to meet caregivers and doctor groups,” Shepard said. “There’s a lot of information for potential patients. There’s also a lot of information for best uses, the best ways for delivery, and growing advice.”

Vendors will include medical marijuana dispensaries and caregivers, growing systems, soils, lighting systems, smoking and vaping accessories, advocacy groups, entrepreneurs and investors.

State Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, will speak at the convention, as will Catherine Lewis, board chair of the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, and NE Grass Roots founder Mike Fitzgerald.

Russell tried to pass legislation to legalize marijuana; her effort to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Maine failed in the state’s Legislative Council, even after the city of Portland passed an initiative to legalize recreational use of marijuana.

Medical marijuana became legally available in Maine in 1999, when 62 percent of voters passed Question 2. In 2009, Maine voters approved Question 5, the Maine Marijuana Medical Act, which established a confidential patient registry, expanded the list of qualifying conditions for which a physician may recommend medicinal cannabis and allowed for the creation of nonprofit state-licensed dispensaries to assist in the distribution of medical cannabis to qualified patients. In the last half of 2014, the state’s medical marijuana program netted $459,557 for state administration, according to a Maine Department of Health and Human Services report. The number of caregiver cards increased from 3,114 in 2013 to 4,550 in 2014, the state reported, and the number of caregivers increased from 1,197 in 2013 to 2,161 in 2014. (Other statistics about Maine’s medical marijuana program are available at https://www.maine.gov/dhhs/dlrs/mmm/documents/2014-MMMP-Annual-Report.pdf.)

On a parallel but separate track, voters have pushed ahead with legalization of marijuana for recreational use.  Statewide marijuana legalization efforts are expected to coalesce around one proposal in 2016. Groups agreed to combine competing measures, with leaders of two competing marijuana initiative campaigns in Maine announcing last month that they will unite behind one state ballot measure.

“The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol will stop collecting signatures in support of the initiative it filed in March and spearhead the campaign in support of a similar initiative filed in February by Legalize Maine,” a press release explained. “Each of the campaigns has collected approximately 40,000 signatures, and they will work together to collect the remaining signatures needed to qualify for the November 2016 ballot. They have until January to collect a total of approximately 61,000 valid signatures of registered Maine voters.”

Now that the two groups pushing marijuana reform initiatives have merged, Shepard is looking forward to seeing how they work together. He anticipates that there will still be some people from both campaigns who feel as if they lost something in the merger.

“If you go back about a month, both groups were planning to have a booth with signature drives,” he said. “This will be the first gathering of people (since the decision to merge the initiatives). I hope it’s all positive, but you never know.”

He expects that convention is the start of a future partnership with the Maine-based groups.

“We launched NECANN this year. Next year, we plan just two big shows — one at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston in April, and the other one (tentatively) at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut in the fall,” he said. “If this (Maine) show works out, we’ll continue partnering with MMC of Maine (Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine). They have a show in Augusta in the spring, and we would hold ours in the fall.”

Folks who want to get in the smoky spirit can catch a film festival on Friday, Nov. 6, at USM.  The shorts program will be played first, consisting of seven films including Maine’s own Temp Tales: Crittah Gettahz in two parts. Following a 15-minute intermission, the feature called The Growing Season will air.

NECANN is partnering with the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine and the New England Grass Roots Institute for the Portland Convention. MMCM will be providing educational outreach and delivering a keynote speech on the patient/caregiver relationship in Maine. NEGRI (the region’s first cannabis industry institute) will be curating the programming for the two-day convention.

The event is sponsored by The Wellness Connection of Maine and Proverde Labs. The convention is open to the public (18 or older to enter).  For more information about NECANN, visit www.NECANN.com

Portland Cannabis Convention | Sat., Nov. 7, noon to 6:00pm | Sun., Nov. 8, 11:00am to 5:00pm | University of Southern Maine, Sullivan Recreation Complex, 66 Falmouth St., Portland | $15 per day; $25 for a two-day pass | Includes access to all vendors & programming | Ticket sales are online at www.necann.com and tickets can also be bought at the event (cash only).

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