Feature: Maine Medical Marijuana Dispensary Initiative Ahead in November Election Campaign

In a little more than two weeks, Maine residents will go to the polls to vote on a measure that would build on the state's decade-old existing medical marijuana law by creating a system of dispensaries. Despite some grumbling from the usual suspects and announced opposition from some not-so-usual suspects, proponents of the measure say they are confident it will win easily on November 3.

Maine coast
Sponsored by Maine Citizens for Patient Rights and the Maine Medical Marijuana Policy Initiative, and funded primarily by the Drug Policy Alliance, the Maine Medical Marijuana Act would:

  • Establish a system of nonprofit dispensaries which would be overseen and tightly regulated by the state;
  • Establish a voluntary identification card for medical marijuana patients and caregivers;
  • Protect patients and caregivers from arrest, search and seizure unless there is suspicion of abuse;
  • Create new protections for qualified patients and providers in housing, education, employment and child custody;
  • Allow patients with Lou Gehrig's disease and Alzheimer's disease access to medical marijuana;
  • Require the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a procedure for expanding the list of conditions for which marijuana can be used; and
  • Keeps current allowable marijuana quantities at 2.5 ounces and six plants.

When voters go to the polls on November 3 to vote on Question 5, the Medical Marijuana Act, this is the question they will be asked: "Do you want to change the medical marijuana laws to allow treatment of more medical conditions and to create a regulated system of distribution?"

"We feel the campaign is in really good shape right now," said Jonathan Leavitt, who is leading the charge for the initiative.

The existing law needs reform to make it workable, Leavitt said. "In the 10 years since the medical marijuana law went into effect, it has barely been utilized because patients have not had a legal means of obtaining their medicine except to grow their own, and that's just not workable for a seriously ill patient," he said. "With this measure, qualified patients will have full access to their medicine through the establishment of not-for-profit medical marijuana dispensaries."

The measure's language protecting patients from discrimination in housing, employment, and child custody issues is necessary because patients have suffered in the past, Leavitt said. "This will provide a security blanket for qualified patients by really putting in black and white the full legal protections they need."

The child custody provision says that medical marijuana patients cannot be denied visitation or custody of a minor child unless their behavior is "unreasonably dangerous to the minor." That provision drew criticism from the Maine Prosecutors Association, which announced last month it is opposing the measure, but is not putting money into doing so.

"This law reeks of paranoia that the entire criminal justice system is not to be trusted," said association president Evert Fowle, without a hint of irony. Medical marijuana patients across the country, including Maine, have seen their children seized or have lost custody battles solely because of their medical marijuana use or production.

Physicians in Maine can be found on both sides of the question. Dr. John Woytowicz, a family physician in Augusta, told the Maine Public Broadcasting Network, "I don't start with medical marijuana as the first choice for a medical condition. It's part of a whole assessment of what can be done for a given condition. And I put it very frankly to the patient that I would like to explore all opportunities and this could be one of the options as well. My experience is for the appropriate patient, it can be a good option for them, and most people have been benefitted by it with the minimal amount of side effects." Mark Publicker, an addiction specialist with Mercy Recovery Center in Westbrook, told MPBN, "I would advocate for limiting access to marijuana and not to regard it as a medication."

The measure has drawn fire from one unexpected direction: the Maine Vocals, a group of longtime marijuana and medical marijuana legalization activists. The Vocals and its offshoot, Maine Citizens for Medical Marijuana, have announced they oppose the initiative.

"I favor what we have now and working to make it better," said Maine Vocals founder Don Christen. "But this isn't the way. They're just instilling the government into this program, and the government doesn't want it to work," he said.

"The initiative puts DHS in charge of the distribution centers and the overall medical marijuana law, and we're not happy about that because that's the department that has been taking people's children away," said Christen. "DHS is like law enforcement when it comes to medical marijuana. We would like instead to see it in a different department's hands, and with a board of patients and doctors instead of politicians."

"When it came to administering the dispensaries, it was either law enforcement or the Department of Human Services," Leavitt replied. "We thought DHS would be a better fit for questions around the medicinal use of marijuana. DHS also has a mandate to deal with child custody issues, so we included the child custody language because we want it crystal clear that patients will be protected, including around these issues."

Christen also took issue with the $5,000 fee required of dispensary operators. "That's a bit ridiculous," he snorted. "The cost will be prohibitive for a lot of people."

Leavitt responded that such fees had worked in other states and that they were necessary to ensure the measure did not impose a burden on taxpayers.

Christen also objected to the patient ID card system on both philosophical and practical grounds. "After 9/11, Maine opted out of the federal Real ID program," he said. "We don't believe in making lists of everybody up here. And the ID card system gives rights and privileges to those with cards that other patients don't have."

About that, Christen is correct, but only to a point. To enjoy the full protections of the measure, patients, caregivers, and dispensary operators must register with the state and obtain an ID card. Qualifying patients who do not obtain an ID card could still be subject to arrest, but could present their status as medical marijuana patients as an affirmative defense to prosecution and move to have the charges dismissed. But those same patients can be arrested today.

Christen also complained that the measure would bar people who have marijuana felonies from acting as caregivers or dispensary operators or employees. "Those who have marijuana felonies, including myself, will be taken out of the picture," he said, noting that he himself had only gotten out of jail on a marijuana charge 10 days ago.

"We say they haven't read the bill," Leavitt responded. "They talk about how they are fearful they will be knocked out of the loop because they are marijuana felons, but marijuana felons would not be considered felons under this measure."

Actually, the language is a bit ambiguous. It says that someone convicted of a "felony drug offense" cannot be affiliated with a dispensary, but also says that doesn't apply if the felony is more than 10 years old or if it was "an offense that consisted of conduct that would have been permitted under this chapter." Whether Christen would qualify might depend on whether the medical marijuana growing he was convicted for was found to be consistent with the new law's cultivation provisions, and perhaps with yet-to-be-written regulations.

Leavitt wasn't pleased with the not-so-friendly fire. "The Maine Vocals just haven't done the work to get something on the ballot, let alone passed," Leavitt said. "They're doing a great disservice to patients by speaking out against us."

But even with the criticism from the Vocals, it appears that Maine will be the next medical marijuana state to adopt the dispensary system.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Maine has a very reasonable

Maine has a very reasonable absentee voting system in place. You may vote now by going into your Town Office, filling out an absentee ballot request and you will be handed your ballot. All you need to do is vote and return your ballot as instructed on or before election day.

Maine medical cannabis

people should realize that Jonathan probably had no control or input into the language for this referendum (MPP wrote it before they abandoned this project and DPA rescued it).

I like to see dispensaries added, but I wonder why the national movement does not simply do Prop 215 again, especially in New England where it would pass easily. Most dispensaries opened in California because of the incentive for profit. Allowing only non-profits with a cumbersome, expensive regulatory process will ultimately mean less choice and less access for patients.

It's the multitude of easily-accessed dispensaries that drives the patients to the doctors for recommendations. That demand results in cannabis-specialty physician practices, where it's easy to get a recommendation. Also the "optional" DPH registry card is not very optional if you can't get into dispensaries without it.

I think any rational person would agree that California is by far the best state for a truly seriously ill person for medical cannabis. The key elements of Prop. 215 that made it this way were:

- initially allowing for-profit dispensaries NOT managed by the govt.
- no special fees for dispensaries other than sales tax like any other business
- no statewide cap on the number of dispensaries
- doctor's recommendation is the only thing a patients needs, no registry, no annual fees to the state

This is the difference between a medical cannabis state like Vermont, with only 350 people being protected, to California and Colorado, with hundreds of thousands of patients. In the New England states people generally don't go to jail for small-time cannabis offenses, an annual patient fee of $150 would be enough to deter many patients from even bothering. And one has to question the wisdom of putting DPH in charge in a state where the elected officials are very hostile to this issue.

Why does this referendum and the 2010 one in Arizona kowtow to law enforcement and government bureaucrats, when we KNOW a wide-open Prop 215 would pass by a large margin in each state? Both states voted for MedMJ in a landslide 10 years ago, surely the margin of victory has only grown since then.

I think the tight regulations and fees are fine if you're working with a state legislature (like RI). They have no place in a referendum in a friendly state. We all see what's happening, prohibition has collapsed in California. Wasn't that supposed to be our goal? It also happens to be the best way to serve legitimate patients.

Vocals have a point.

Printing cards, keeping a database, tags for plants etc.
Additional Law Enforcement.

Maines Red Tape will drive the prices so high the Black Market will win.

Maine's Medical Marijuana Fraud

Maine has been subject to manipulation from outside sources of power. “Money” seems to want to keep things the same, but with a happy face stuck on the outside. Small numbers of poor locals have been run over by corrupt money from forces that embrace old lies and hate the truth so much, it goes unmentioned....... Why do you need permission for a RIGHT ?.....So now 2.5 ounces = OK, but 2.6 ounces = felon. ( one average plant makes you a felon). While the Feds long distributed over 10 ounces per month. Why cut that number into one fourth that they allowed ?? It’s not legally possible to grow a years worth in your garden during the grow season. This is a cruel fraud that merely codifies an abomination. National “leaders” have never been able to tell the truth about cannabis. What is wrong with you folks, clinging to old lies ??? Just tell the truth. The drug war is complete and total trickery, deceit and lies. A pox on those that beg to evil forces; and compromise. Try... The Forbidden Fruit and the Tree of Knowledge: An Inquiry into the Legal History of American Marijuana Prohibition. Charles Whitebread II

Dr.'s who prescribe Medical Marijuana

I have bipolar, severe depression, PTSD,and severe anxiety. Am I a candidate for medical marijuana and if so, where can I find a Dr. who will prescribe? I talked to my psychiatrist about it and he is against it. I smoke already because when I go into a RAGE and my anxiety keeps me from leaving the house, it helps so much. I can carry on with my life.
Please help if you can.
Thank you for your time.

Dr.s in Maine That perscribe Medical Marijuana

I am retired Army Airborne , and suffer from chronic pain, PTSD, arthritis and many other conditions. I don't currently use marijuana, wonder if it would help me. I need to see a doctor willing to prescribe the drug to me.

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