Maine Marijuana stakeholders join forces: 'We want this industry to succeed'
There is a new and unusual union in the state of Maine, and its officers and members recently held their first meeting in Sanford.
Since unions are common – for firefighters, teachers, electrical workers, and more have them – you might ask what makes this newly formed one unusual.
Pete Tranchemontage, of Uncle Pete’s Re-Leaf, a medical marijuana provider in Sanford, can tell you. He’s the vice president of the organization’s board of directors.
“Anybody that has teeth in the industry, we all want to get together,” Tranchemontagne said during a recent interview at his home.
Growers. Dispensary owners. Their employees. All of them, according to Tranchemontagne.
“I know for a fact they can make a difference,” he added.
According to Susan Meehan, president of the new union, efforts are focused on securing quality and affordable health benefits for members and protecting the cottage industry of small cannabis businesses throughout the state from corporate influences, interests and attempts to take over the field.
“It’s healthy as it is now, with small businesses serving their community,” Meehan said.
Meehan does not own a cannabis business but does hold a registry card that allows her to work in the industry. Before the union, and now for the union, she focuses on legislative analysis and research, advocacy, and community building, she said.
'Strength in numbers' fuels Maine Cannabis Union
The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers officially welcomed the Maine Cannabis Union into its ranks Oct. 10. The union, registered with the Maine Secretary of State’s Office as a nonprofit organization, states on its website that it relies on advocacy, communication, education, community engagement, and the democratic process to advance its mission.
Joining forces with the IAMAW has allowed the Maine cannabis industry to find strength in numbers, Meehan said. She added that the Maine Lobstering Union also is an affiliate of the IAMAW.
“The strength in numbers is phenomenal,” she said. “These are industries that we see as key to the economy and integral to the Maine landscape.”
The union had its first meeting at the former Back Street Sanford restaurant on Oct. 14. A meet-and-greet for members and prospective members will be held at Sticky Bud Farms in Windham on Dec. 2.
As of Nov. 10, the union had approximately three dozen members, comprised largely of business owners, some of whom are licensed for both medical and adult-use cannabis.
“We’re averaging about 5 to 10 new members a week,” Meehan said. “I believe our membership will skyrocket once employees join us.”
Affordable health insurance, lobbying and more
According to Meehan, the union is working on how it may benefit patients and customers in the future. Both are welcome to donate to the union and join its efforts, Meehan said.
Regarding health benefits, Tranchemontagne said people in the industry have to “get a really expensive private-group plans or otherwise rely on MaineCare for their medical needs.
“We have to build out numbers, so we can go in and get better benefits and better premiums on everything,” Tranchemontagne said of the union.
Other benefits of joining the union, according to Tranchemontagne: members no longer have to pay for lobbyists, and they also get to vote on union matters, including who serves on the board of directors.
“You’re a paying member, you vote,” he said. “You have a right. You don’t get steamrolled.”
Tranchemontagne said it would help the state’s economy if the new union grew in membership and secured quality health benefits for their numbers.
Union president: 'We want this industry to succeed'
Both Tranchemontagne and Meehan are veterans of the cannabis movement with personal stories driving their advocacy.
Tranchemontagne said cannabis has helped him manage both his health and the pain he experiences as someone who suffered a devastating level of poisoning from a bottle of foreign water nearly 40 years ago. The incident wreaked havoc on his body, brought him close to death, and continues to challenge him to this day, he said.
Meehan said cannabis was “the only thing that worked” for her young daughter, Cyndimae, who had a debilitating form of epilepsy.
Meehan moved from Connecticut to Maine so she could access cannabis for her daughter, who became a national advocate for medical marijuana. Cyndimae died in 2016 at the age of 13.
Tranchemontagne expressed optimism that the new union is “going to do a lot of good.”
“Everybody matters,” he said. “It’s a brand new industry, and it’s our one chance to steer this right.”
Meehan also expressed optimism, noting that the union has a unique makeup.
“We’re hoping it becomes a new and effective model,” she said. “We want this industry to succeed.”