Pot bill progresses in Augusta

C'Mon Doc ...
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  March 10, 2010


At the end of February, Topsham became the latest Maine community to consider moratoriums on medical-marijuana dispensaries in the wake of last November's election. Other cities and towns, some of which have already issued temporary bans, include South Portland, Brewer, and Ellsworth among a handful of other municipalities. It is a reaction to the referendum that creates a system for growing, distributing, and accessing pot (with a doctor's and the state's approval) to ease certain medical conditions, like those associated with cancer or multiple sclerosis.

Advocate Jonathan Leavitt, who played a big role in the political campaign last fall, says the moratoriums are pointless. "It's just a waste of time because no one can operate a dispensary in the state until the licenses are available," Leavitt says, and that won't happen until mid-summer. In other words, cities and towns have more than enough time to come up with local pot-related rules and regulations before marijuana marts start popping up next to schools (or some such sensational worst-case scenario).

The governor-appointed medical-marijuana task force will present recommendations to the Joint Committee on Health and Human Services on Thursday at a public hearing. Then, the bill will go before the full Legislature, and once it's (presumably) approved there, the state Department of Health and Human Services will go about actually implementing the law. The task force has laid out a system of qualifications for patients and caregivers (who are not permitted to assist more than five qualified patients with medical marijuana), rights and responsibilities of dispensaries and users (dispensaries may be searched by state officials without notice, but patients and caregivers get 24 hours' advance warning), and privileges of doctors (they are not subject to arrest, prosecution, or penalty of any kind, criminal, civil, or professional). It specifically notes that schools, employers, landlords, and parents in custody battles may not discriminate against people based on medical-marijuana patient qualification.

In the meantime, Leavitt and the Maine Citizens for Patients' Rights group are planning a big conference (for 300 to 500 people) at the University of Southern Maine on June 5, with different tracks for patients and caregivers, doctors, municipal officials and politicians, and potential dispensary operators (about 30 of whom showed up at a special workshop in Augusta last week to learn more about what it will take to run one of the non-profit dispensaries). Leavitt is especially interested in overcoming physicians' resistance to pot prescriptions.

"We've got all these patients who are qualified," he explains, "and they're urgently calling to find a doctor to make a recommendation." However, so few doctors are writing medical-marijuana prescriptions that there's a "backlog of patients who can't find doctors . . . We need to educate the doctors or they need to educate themselves."

Learn more at www.maine.gov/dhhs/mmma/and mainepatientsrights.org

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