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From Papermaking to Pot Growing: Job-Strapped Mainers Eye Alternatives
02/07/2014   Reported By: Susan Sharon

With mills in East Millinocket and Lincoln cutting back on operations and laying off workers, a medical marijuana trade organization decided to hold its version of a job fair this week in downtown Lincoln. More than 70 people turned out for an introductory seminar about becoming a medical marijuana caregiver. And as Susan Sharon reports several of the attendees say they're intrigued enough to undertake more formal training simply because their options for other work are so few.

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From Papermaking to Pot Growing Listen

Organizers set up 40 folding chairs in a small art studio. And by 7:00 pm Monday night it was standing room only when nearly twice as many people as expected showed up.

"Our goal is to offer a free class on how to become a medical marijuana caregiver to any laid off millworker or any interested citizen," says Paul McCarrier. "We just want to offer them a career in Maine's largest growing industry."

McCarrier represents the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine. He says state records show there are close to 1,300 licensed caregivers in Maine and an estimated 15,000 medical marijuana patients, some of whom grow cannabis for their own use.

Under state law, caregivers can only grow for up to five other people, although McCarrier and others are hoping to extend the limit.

"You can generally make - expect to make - anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000 a year, depending on the patients that you're serving and the use," he says.

Susan Sharon: "How many caregivers do you think the state of Maine can support?"

Paul McCarrier: "I think the state of Maine can probably support anywhere from 2,500 to 3,000 caregivers depending upon how many patients those caregivers take care of."

Among those who showed up for the presentation was 61-year-old Ronald O'Hara of Lincoln. He says he hasn't smoked pot in more than 40 years and doesn't know anything about medical marijuana except what he's read in the paper.

But, a few weeks ago, O'Hara lost his job making pulp at the mill down the street. He'd worked there for 25 years. "I think everybody wants to supplement their income, and if I could do it legally that's what I'm looking at," O'Hara says.

Susan Sharon: "You got a green thumb?"

Ronald O'Hara: "I seem to think I do, yeah. I have a pretty good size garden every year. I raise animals and chickens. Yeah, I think I could probably grow a few."

But becoming a caregiver isn't as easy as it sounds. Just like any small business, it takes investment and planning, extensive record keeping and understanding a set of complicated state rules.

"The next section is 'Prepared Edibles,'" Katherine Lewis tells the crowd. "Are you going to prepare edibles for your patients, yes or no?"

Lewis is a licensed caregiver who also teaches more formal classes about what's entailed. She says she and her husband make a decent living growing medical cannabis and caring for their patients. But she says the job isn't easy and it's not for everyone.

"Our income has varied,'" she says. "I mean, there have been times we have crop failures, and then you wonder how you're going to pay the mortgage. And that's a problem in this business because there's not a lot of backup. It's a lot of work. You're going to get dirty, the lifting and - We don't leave the house alone for security purposes. We just don't.....ever."

Still, Lewis says it's nice to be able to work for yourself and to help other people. And that's one of the reasons people like Andrew Libbey of Mattawamkeag and Laura Mott of Lincoln are interested in learning more.

But there are other reasons. Libbey is a butcher who says he's been told he'll probably lose the job he's had for 12 years. He's not sure where else he can get work. But he had hip replacement surgery a couple years ago and found relief in medical marijuana. Now, he's thinking it could offer him something more.

"This was my first step - just see what it's all about and see what it was," he says.

Susan Sharon: "Would you go to a class? Would you think about going to one?"

Andrew Libbey: "Oh heck yeah. Yeah."

Laura Mott of Lincoln is also getting laid off from the mill. She says she's got two options: go back to school or become a caregiver.

"There's not a whole lot around here," Mott says. "All the papermills are going down. Unless you want to work at Walmart or McDonalds, that's about all you got."

Mott says she hasn't figured out what her next option is, but like others in this economically depresssed region, she isn't ruling out a career in the medical marijuana industry - something she says she'd never thought she'd consider.


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