Pubdate: Thu, 28 Sep 2000
Source: Portland Press Herald (ME)
Copyright: 2000 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.
Author: Joshua L. Weinstein, Portland Press Herald Writer


Most members of the Attorney General's Task Force on Medical Marijuana
believe the state should distribute the drug.

The 29-member task force met for the last time Wednesday, and agreed
to send the Legislature a report outlining three proposals. But after
seven meetings of the whole group and seven smaller sessions, members
never reached a general agreement on how to get marijuana to patients.

The group was divided on everything - even its final report. On
Wednesday, the task force voted to write minority reports outlining
other points of view.

But it put forward a proposal that, among people who follow the issue,
is remarkable: setting up a state-operated medical marijuana
distribution center, even though the drug is illegal under federal

Sixteen committee members favor the proposal, and 11 oppose

Most remarkable is that the presidents of the Maine Chiefs of Police
Association and Maine Sheriffs' Association want the center.

"I feel very strongly that contrary to the way the federal government
feels about the states doing this, it makes sense," said Mark Westrum,
the sheriff of Sagadahoc County and president of the sheriffs'
association. "It was the best and the right thing to do."

Last November, voters in Maine approved a law making marijuana legal
for limited medicinal purposes. Other states have similar laws, but
the federal government has consistently blocked efforts to implement
them. In fact, this past summer, the U.S. Supreme Court granted the
government's request to shut down the Oakland Cannabis Buyers'
Cooperative, a patient-run organization.

A state law, however, would have an official status the federal
government would be unwise to meddle with, said Chuck Thomas, a
spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C.

"This would be the first time that a state government itself is
creating a medical marijuana distribution system," he said. "To
actually go in and punish someone despite what their state government
said really puts it on a whole new level . . . the federal government
going against the wishes of the state government itself would make a
much more powerful statement" that would evoke a large public outcry.

Westrum, who opposed the ballot question that made medical marijuana
legal in Maine, went a step further.

He said he and his association "are keenly aware that our position
doesn't sit well with the commissioner of public safety or the Maine
Drug Enforcement Agency, but we represent a large constituency
ourselves, and we are in touch with the people of our counties."

And he said he is tired of constant concerns about the federal

"The federal government interferes way too much in the states' rights
to do our business and, frankly, I'm sick of it," he said. "If they
want to take us to task, let 'em."

He guessed that federal interference would backfire. "As more states
catch on to what's going on, and as this issue continues to grow, it's
going to be happening in a lot of other states," he said.

Chief Joe Roberts, of the Hampden Police Department, said he agrees
with a central distribution center even though the organization he
leads, the chiefs' association, does not.

He said it works best and is more easily enforced. "Plus there would
be a ready supply," he said. "If you or I got diagnosed with one of
those qualifying conditions and we had the need for the product, we
could get it, whereas if I get diagnosed today . . . I'd have to grow
it from seed."

Maine's attorney general, Andrew Ketterer, is uncomfortable with the
idea. He prefers a system that would allow approved medical patients
to grow the drug for other medical patients.

He said he had hoped the task force could come up with a unanimous or
near-unanimous recommendation, but that "this task force was
beneficial in the sense that it got out all the issues."

The report will go to the Legislature, which ultimately will have to
figure out how to implement the law - favored by 61.4 percent of the
voters in 1998.

The Proposals:

The Attorney General's Task Force on Medical Marijuana wrote its
final report to the Maine Legislature's Joint Standing Committees on
Health and Human Services and Criminal Justice on Wednesday. It
discussed three proposals. The first would establish a research
program to study the medical benefits of cannabinoids found in
marijuana. Ten members voted for that option, as long as the program
emphasized research on non-smoked methods of ingesting the active
ingredients in marijuana. Twelve approved of it with an amendment
eliminating the emphasis on research on non-smoked marijuana. Four
opposed it.

The second would establish a medical marijuana patient registry and
allow registered patients to furnish marijuana to one other registered
patient. Eight approved, five supported it with an amendment that
would remove the provision making a list of patients with extra
marijuana available to other patients. Thirteen opposed it.

The third would create a registry and have the state distribute
marijuana. Sixteen members favored that option, 11 opposed it.
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