Maine is on track to launch its first recreational marijuana businesses in June, four years after its residents voted in favor of legalization. A year ago, Maine created an Office of Marijuana Policy (OMP) within its Department of Administrative and Financial Services. The OMP handles all licensing, compliance, and oversight of medical and recreational use of marijuana. In an effort to protect the confidential information flowing through its office, the OMP drafted a bill that would protect trade secrets, along with security and operating procedures, from being accessed by the public.
Maine’s Freedom of Access Act is intended to guarantee access to all public records, and some FOAA requests for public records related to marijuana licenses have already been submitted to the OMP, but the new bill would provide an exemption for certain information included in business license applications. The OMP is especially interested in protecting recipes, cultivation methods, and other proprietary information that competitors might try to use against each other. Some advocates of the bill say it should be even broader, protecting the identities of those who fund the cannabis startups. On the other hand, some worry that a government-sanctioned lack of transparency risks an erosion of the public trust in this emerging industry.
One attorney who represents cannabis businesses noted that much of the information the bill seeks to protect — recipes, soil mixtures, and other trade secrets — should not be included in filings with state agencies in the first place, and made it clear that her clients are in favor of transparency. The OMP understands that its bill is merely a catalyst for discussion and may not be adopted verbatim, and indeed it seems the debate will be a lively one.
Maine decriminalized possession of cannabis as early as 1976, and legalized medical marijuana in 1999, so other states will likely look to Maine’s legislation as a model for balancing transparency concerns with concerns over the protection of confidential information and intellectual property.