Maine: House Approves Medical Marijuana Dispensary Bill


Voters already OK’d medical marijuana in November referendum

April 6, 2010 – AUGUSTA — The medical marijuana bill that will set up a dispensary and registration system in Maine received final House passage Monday, setting the stage for the next phase of work before dispensaries can open.

After a short debate, the House voted 128-17 in favor of the bill, which implements an expansion of the existing medical marijuana law. In a November 2009 referendum, 59 percent of voters supported allowing nonprofit dispensaries to open across the state.

Although passage of the bill was virtually assured Monday, the House debate featured passionate testimony on both sides.

Rep. Sally Lewin, R-Eliot, said she worries that, because marijuana is illegal on the federal level, the state should not expand access to it by setting up a dispensary system.

“In my judgment, this is a bill to legalize marijuana use,” she said. “I believe it’s rather like Swiss cheese, full of holes.”

But Rep. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, shared a personal story about her daughter’s battle with cancer and how much marijuana helped her cope with the nausea caused by intensive chemotherapy.

“There are real people out there for whom this herb has been a valuable resource,” she said.

Last year, medical-marijuana advocates said that while Maine was one of 14 states to allow the use of medicinal marijuana with a doctor’s permission, it was difficult for many people to get it legally. The law passed in 1999 allowed patients to grow it themselves or to designate someone to grow it for them.

Advocates said that left people no option but to buy it on the black market. After a successful signature drive and a low-key campaign, Maine voters supported an overhaul to the law that allows Maine to create a dispensary system.

The bill to implement the new system makes several changes to the measure approved by voters.

It limits, at least for the first year, the number of dispensaries to eight across the state.

It gives the state Department of Health and Human Services until July 1 to adopt rules establishing application and renewal fees for patients, care givers and dispensaries. Dispensary fees will be set by the department, but the bill requires the fee be no less than $5,000 and no greater than $15,000 per year.

It allows marijuana to be sold to patients in food and “other preparations.”

And, it will eventually require all medical marijuana patients to register with the state — a system that was voluntary in the original citizen initiative. All patients will be required to register with the state by January 2011.

That change concerns the Maine Civil Liberties Union, which believes it violates patient-doctor privacy.

“Cancer and AIDS patients using medical marijuana for months or years will now have to register with the state or risk prosecution,” Maine Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Shenna Bellows said. “It should be voluntary for patients, especially when state law conflicts with federal law.”

Kathy Bubar, who served on the medical marijuana task force last winter, said the biggest challenge for the state will be setting guidelines for determining which dispensaries are allowed to open in the first year.

“We’ve had a ton of inquiries,” she said.

Yet the bill allows only eight, one in each health district throughout the state.

That means heavily populated areas such as York and Cumberland counties will get only one per county. A large geographical area such as central Maine — which is defined as Kennebec and Somerset counties — will also be allowed only one dispensary.

After the first year, the department will review the performance of the dispensaries and decide whether to allow additional ones to open, Bubar said.

Rep. Michael Celli, R-Brewer, voted to support the final measure but said there are many parts of the bill that will have to be changed in the years to come.

“I do feel sorry for anyone on the health and human services (committee) for the next 50 years,” he said. “They are going to get this bill back time after time after time.”

By Susan Cover.  Source.


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