Maine’s marijuana enthusiasts used a public hearing on Thursday to implore the state to protect the small businesses and growers they think should make up the backbone of the state’s budding cannabis industry.

The Maine Office of Marijuana Policy held the public hearing about the state’s draft marijuana rules, which are nearing approval after years of delay. State officials have said marijuana could be available in stores in early 2020, or possibly even sooner, but the state needs to pass a legal framework first.

The state needs to use the rules to prevent corporate marijuana interests from overrunning the state’s small cannabis industry, which is long established as a result of legal medical marijuana in the state, said Charles Hawkins, who owns a North Windham dispensary.

Joseph Baker testifies during a hearing held by Maine Office of Marijuana Policy, Thursday, May 23, 2109, in Portland, Maine. Many used the event to implore the state to protect the small businesses and growers in the state's cannabis industry. State officials are working to pass a legal framework before marijuana could be sold in stores. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Joseph Baker testifies during a hearing held by Maine Office of Marijuana Policy, Thursday, May 23, 2109, in Portland, Maine. Many used the event to implore the state to protect the small businesses and growers in the state’s cannabis industry. State officials are working to pass a legal framework before marijuana could be sold in stores. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

“Maine doesn’t need 10 marijuana companies with 500 employees, it needs 500 marijuana companies with 10 employees,” Hawkins said.

Voters in Maine approved legal recreational use of marijuana in a 2016 vote. The draft rules must still be approved by the Maine Legislature before they can implemented. The rules cover issues such as licensure, retailing and taxation.

The state is still taking public comment on the proposed rules until June 2, said Erik Gundersen, the director of the marijuana office. The state could then provisionally accept the rules and the legislative process could begin.

David Boyer, Maine political director of Marijuana Policy Project, discusses policy at a hearing held by Maine Office of Marijuana Policy, Thursday, May 23, 2109, in Portland, Maine. Many used the event to implore the state to protect the small businesses and growers in the state's cannabis industry. State officials are working to pass a legal framework before marijuana could be sold in stores. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
David Boyer, Maine political director of Marijuana Policy Project, discusses policy at a hearing held by Maine Office of Marijuana Policy, Thursday, May 23, 2109, in Portland, Maine. Many used the event to implore the state to protect the small businesses and growers in the state’s cannabis industry. State officials are working to pass a legal framework before marijuana could be sold in stores. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Gundersen said after the hearing that Maine’s proposed laws are tailored to prioritize state residents. The proposal would limit licenses to state residents at first.

“A lot of people want to focus on the small guy. We’ve done a good job of making sure that Mainers, and the small guy, get the first shot at the industry,” he said.

Speakers at the hearing also called on the state to approve a tax structure that isn’t punitive for retailers and users. The price point of legal marijuana has to be competitive to deter people from the black market, speakers said.

J.R. Brennan, of Limington, Maine, testifies at a hearing held by Maine Office of Marijuana Policy, Thursday, May 23, 2109, in Portland, Maine. Brennan hopes to get into the cannabis industry. State officials are working to pass a legal framework before marijuana could be sold in stores. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
J.R. Brennan, of Limington, Maine, testifies at a hearing held by Maine Office of Marijuana Policy, Thursday, May 23, 2109, in Portland, Maine. Brennan hopes to get into the cannabis industry. State officials are working to pass a legal framework before marijuana could be sold in stores. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Dick Thompson, left, and Erik Gundersen of the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy, listen to testimony at a hearing, Thursday, May 23, 2109, in Portland, Maine. Many used the event to implore the state to protect the small businesses and growers in the state's cannabis industry. State officials are working to pass a legal framework before marijuana could be sold in stores. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Dick Thompson, left, and Erik Gundersen of the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy, listen to testimony at a hearing, Thursday, May 23, 2109, in Portland, Maine. Many used the event to implore the state to protect the small businesses and growers in the state’s cannabis industry. State officials are working to pass a legal framework before marijuana could be sold in stores. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

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