Pubdate: Thu, 28 Sep 2000
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2000, Bangor Daily News Inc.
Author: Michael O'D. Moore, Of the NEWS Staff


AUGUSTA - A task force assembled by the Attorney General's Office to 
provide the Legislature with recommendations on how to distribute marijuana 
for medical purposes ended its last regular meeting in conflict rather than 
consensus Wednesday.

The 29-member task force was sharply divided over a report outlining its 
work since May, and its members made no concrete recommendations. Lawmakers 
and others had looked to the group for guidance on how to reconcile Maine's 
law legalizing marijuana for medical use with federal laws that make 
marijuana illegal.

Several members present for the meeting said the report, written by 
Assistant Attorney General James M. Cameron, didn't clearly indicate that 
task force members agreed on some proposals.

"I don't think the report . goes far enough in terms of providing something 
to the committees that's very meaningful,'' said task force member Rep. 
Thomas Kane ,D-Saco, co-chairman of the Health and Human Services 
Committee. He said he didn't like the task force adjourning without 
offering legislators more guidance.

Rep. Daniel Williams, D-Orono, said that judging from several comments from 
fellow task force members, more work could have been done before a vote was 
taken on the final report.

But task force chair Rep. Edward Povich, D-Ellsworth, said that was not 

"There's nothing new that's going to come that's going to require a 
[formal] vote," Povich said.

Instead, he said those voting against the report had three weeks to compile 
a separate report. Most of Wednesday's meeting focused on how such a report 
would be approved with no more regular meetings scheduled. Those seeking a 
more complete report said they would meet to discuss an alternative.

After the meeting, Mainers for Medical Rights, which spearheaded the 1998 
referendum item, charged in a press release that the process had been 
skewed by the Attorney General's Office to minimize the views of medical 
marijuana patients and advocates. Attorney General Andrew Ketterer has been 
an outspoken opponent of any distribution of marijuana that would conflict 
with federal law.

During the meeting, Cameron said he just wanted the report to reflect that 
there was disagreement.

The report reviews the history of the 1998 referendum and subsequent 
proposals in the Legislature to clarify how the ill can get marijuana. One 
of the proposals in late winter would have put the Maine Drug Enforcement 
Agency in the role of supplier of a scheduled drug. That proposal was 
transformed into the bill that put several members of the Health and Human 
Services Committee on the Attorney General's task force.

"The task force was unable to reach a consensus on the best way to 
implement the Medical Marijuana Act of 1998," the report stated. "Three 
major approaches were considered and brought to a vote among the members. 
All three received significant but less than unanimous support."

One proposal called for the creation of a state-sponsored clinical research 
program to study the active ingredients of marijuana. Under the program, 
marijuana could be supplied legally under federal law to patients.

Only four task force members opposed this approach with the other voting 
members supporting the concept. Of those in favor, 12 said they would 
support it with an amendment eliminating the preference for research on 
nonsmoking methods of ingesting the ingredients.

A proposal that split the task force down the middle was a bill to 
establish a medical marijuana patient registry. It also would allow a 
registered, qualified patient to furnish marijuana to one other registered, 
qualified marijuana patient.

The third proposal was to create a pilot program for a single nonprofit 
center to sell marijuana to registered patients. The center would be 
similar to a cooperative run in California except that it would not 
necessarily be run by patients.

Sixteen members supported this concept while 11 were in opposition.

In the executive summary, Cameron wrote that the idea for the centers was 
put to the test in California courts this summer. Ultimately, the U.S. 
Supreme Court upheld an injunction against the Oakland Cannabis Club, 
shutting down the operation pending appeals. The decision is viewed as 
indicating that the Supreme Court may side with federal law enforcers in 
shutting down such clubs, the report states.

Kandyce A. Powell, executive director of Maine Hospice, said she worries 
that the "incredible thoughtfulness" that had been part of some of the 
meetings was lost in the report, which she said was ushered through 
Wednesday in a disappointing manner.

"It's not that there's such a chasm in opinions here,'' she said. "It's 
more a question of how much of the comprehensiveness went into this."

Maine Medical Association executive director Gordon Smith said the process 
hadn't changed his organization's opposition to the use of marijuana for 
medical purposes. He said he would like to see what the report from the 
dissenters looks like. But he didn't think the process needs to be extended.

"Frankly, the task force has essentially done what it needs to," he said. 
The challenge is finding ways to implement the referendum-generated law 
when it basically conflicts with federal law. Until the federal law 
changes, that problem is unlikely to disappear, he said.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart