Fertile ground

Pro-pot sentiment continues to grow in Maine
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  April 17, 2014

"Our Maine Legislature has been hijacked by pro-dope enthusiasts,” an impassioned commenter wrote on the As Maine Goes online forum earlier this month, “the 126th Maine Legislature has been transformed, unannounced, into the Maine Marijuana Legislature.”

Is it true? Have our esteemed elected officials been turned into weed-bots? Let’s take a look.

To be sure, Maine’s medical marijuana activists celebrated several victories over the last couple of legislative sessions, and they’re (mostly) looking forward to local and statewide legalization campaigns coming over the next two years.

Earlier this month, Governor Paul LePage signed into law a substantive change to Maine’s medical marijuana law: Certified nurse practitioners are now considered “medical providers” able to recommend marijuana for medical use. Advocates say this will increase access and affordability.

That bill, created at the request of the Department of Health and Human Services to clarify certain aspects of the state’s medi-mari program,initially contained bans on kief (THC crystals from the cannabis plant), hash, and resins; the original language also would have allowed the DHHS to contract with the Drug Enforcement Agency to inspect caregivers and dispensaries, according to Hillary Lister of Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine (MMCM).

After a group of moms showed up at the State House to argue against outlawing kief, the final bill struck all references to that substance as well as hash (though advocates expect these issues will return next session). As for the inspection issue, the bill ordered the DHHS to develop a framework for processing and investigating complaints within the medical marijuana program. Those recommendations are due to the Legislature by December 1, 2014.

The state House and Senate also passed a bill that would allow hospice and nursing facilities to access medical cannabis; that law was enacted without the governor’s signature on April 5. Last session, the addition of post-traumatic stress disorder as a qualifying condition was an important triumph, as was another bill giving caregivers permission to donate excess marijuana to patients in need (previously they were expected to destroy it).

“I think the fact that we’ve been a constant presence [in Augusta] for the past three years has really shifted” any perception that marijuana activists are just a bunch of stoners, Lister says. That and the fact that multiple legislators are patients themselves and at least two have family members who are registered caregivers, she adds, declining to give any names.

Still, it’s not all smooth sailing. At the end of March, MMCM got a letter from Northeast Bank, informing the organization that its account with the financial institution would be closed as of May 1, 2014.

“Your account has been identified as one associated with a medical marijuana business or a medical marijuana caregiver,” the letter reads. “While the medical cultivation and use of marijuana is legal under the laws of the State of Maine, the cultivation, sale, or use of marijuana remains illegal under US federal law.” This came on the heels of a not-particularly-reassuring US Treasury Department memo that attempted to clarify what financial services banks could legally offer marijuana businesses.

Three Maine cities — Lewiston, South Portland, and York — could see pot-legalization initiatives on their ballots this fall, says David Boyer, Maine’s political director for the national Marijuana Policy Project.

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