Pubdate: Mon, 13 Mar 2000
Source: Portland Press Herald (ME)
Copyright: 2000 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.
Author: Joshua L. Weinstein


Back in the day, before it was legal for Bryan Clark to smoke
marijuana, a legislative committee gave him a lovely little pot plant.

"Grow it," Clark remembers the chairman telling him. "Smoke it, enjoy

Clark, who got AIDS when he was 13 from the blood clotting factor his
doctors prescribed for his hemophilia, did all three.

He doesn't have the plant any more. It was just a little thing that
another medical marijuana patient had brought to the committee as a
show-and-tell display. The state did not legalize marijuana for
medical purposes at that time. Last November, however, the voters did,
61 percent of them.

And Clark has a question: "Where's my pot?"

It's legal for him to smoke, but still difficult to

A bill before the state Legislature would fix that by having the state
Drug Enforcement Agency distribute confiscated marijuana to certified
medical users, but even its sponsor, Sen. Anne Rand, doubts it will

The Health and Human Services Committee will hold a hearing on the
bill today at 10 a.m. in Room 436 at the Capitol.

It's an interesting, if improbable solution, Clark

It would be easier if patients could get their marijuana at the
pharmacy, as they do other drugs, but even though Clark's physician
has written him a letter saying he meets the requirements set out in
Maine's law, marijuana is still illegal under federal law, so it is
not available by prescription.

Maine's new law provides Clark another way to get the drug. He and
other patients are permitted to grow six plants, three of which may be

But that's expensive.

"Growing?" Clark asked. "Can I get housing assistance for a
two-bedroom (apartment)? Can I claim my plants as dependents? . . .
Are my lights counted toward my utility allowance?"

He's only partially kidding.

Growing marijuana indoors is expensive 96 he figures more than $500 for
grow lights and another $45 or $50 a month in electricity.

He can buy marijuana illegally, but that's expensive, too 96 $50 for an
eighth-ounce of high-quality bud.

Clark, 26, who lives in Portland, has been using marijuana for eight
years to quell the nausea that racks him. He is pleased that the state
no longer labels him a criminal for having the drug, but he still
worries. Buying marijuana, he said, is still illegal.

"The fear ain't over," he said. "You've got to do what you've got to
do, and that's the unfortunate thing about this."

Not that he'll stop. Only marijuana, he says, eases the
medication-caused nausea and fights its wasting effects by allowing
him to eat. And nausea can be deadly for Clark: he has hemophilia, and
nausea can cause him to vomit so violently, he bleeds internally.

Mark Dion, the sheriff of Cumberland County, sympathizes with

He supported last November's ballot question that legalized marijuana
for limited medical purposes, and hopes the state will help figure a
way to get patients their marijuana.

Dion would like the state to develop a registry of legitimate medical
marijuana patients, but he knows the problems facing Clark, other
patients and the state.

"There are some real delicate public policy questions to be answered,"
he said. "One is, where do we get the material? Will the Maine Drug
Enforcement Agency be the source? Will the state act as a pass-through
agent providing legitimate patients with seized contraband? What are
the liabilities that might attatch to this pass-through process, or
shall the state be engaged in growing material in order to assure
safety, and then pass that on to designated individuals, and what of
the registry?"

In Oregon, where marijuana is legal for medical purposes, the state
has developed a registry but does not supply patients with marijuana.

Here in Maine, Sen. Anne Rand wants to.

The bill that will be discussed today calls for a registry and for the
Maine Drug Enforcement Agency to distribute confiscated marijuana.

Yet Rand acknowledges a problem: As long as marijuana remains illegal
under federal law, it is unlikely legislators will ask the MDEA to
distribute it.

"The truth is," she said, "the federal government really has to change
its attitude about marijuana, it's got to allow research."

Rand, a Democrat who represents Portland and is the Senate's assistant
majority leader, said she opposes marijuana's outright

"But," she said, "I think we're probably missing a great opportunity
by not doing research on this plant, and certainly for the people who
could get a lot of relief and do get a lot of relief from the medical
use of marijuana."

Maine's attorney general, Drew Ketterer, is forming a task force to
study the issue, and Rand will be a member.

But the task force, so far, is law-enforcement heavy. Its co-chairs
are State Rep. Edward Povich, a Democrat from Ellsworth who also
chairs the Legislature's Criminal Justice Committee, and James
Cameron, the assistant attorney general who coordinates state drug
prosecutions. It also includes the president of the Maine Sheriff's
Association, which opposed the law, the director of the Maine DEA, the
commissioner of the Maine Department of Public Safety, the president
of the Maine Prosecutor's Association and the U.S. attorney.

It also includes Rand, Dion, three physicians, a former medical
marijuana user and a representative of the group that got the medical
marijuana question on the ballot.

Ketterer says he sympathizes with Clark, but he disputes the young
man's question.

"The legitimate question isn't, 'Mr. Attorney General, where's my
pot?' " he said. "It is, 'Mr. Government' 96 whatever that is 96 how do
we resolve it?' Does that mean I grow my own and hope for the best?
Suppose I have a crop failure? Does that mean they have to go without
it? I don't know. We have to get at the issues."

Voters in Alaska, Arizona, California, Oregon, Nevada, Washington,
D.C. and Washington state have approved medical marijuana laws.
Legislators in Hawaii have passed a similar law, and lawmakers in
Maryland are considering one.

For his part, Clark would be happy with a registry and a way to get
his marijuana. He'll even grow it 96 for the state 96 if he is given the
space and equipment.

Until then, he's waiting for Ketterer, for Rand, for the Legislature,
for Dion, for the federal government.

Staff Writer Joshua L. Weinstein can be contacted at 791-6368 or  Maine's medical marijuana law was approved
by voters last November.

It limits medical marijuana users to people who have nausea, vomiting
or wasting syndrome from AIDS; who are undergoing chemotherapy; who
have glaucoma; or who have chronic seizures or muscle spasms.

Patients must be under a physician's care, and have discussed the use
of medical marijuana with the physician. The physician must believe
that the use of marijuana will alleviate symptoms.

Patients may have up to an ounce-and-a-quarter of marijuana or six
plants, no more than three of which may be flowering.

Medical marijuana patients are not permitted to smoke marijuana in
public places. Dronabinol, a synthetic version of
or THC, is legal under federal law.

It is sold under the name Marinol.

THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

The drug is prescribed to combat nausea and increase

Medical marijuana users say they prefer smoked marijuana to dronabinol
because they can control the dosage. They also say that when they are
nauseated, they cannot swallow pills, that the drug takes too long to
take effect and leaves them profoundly stoned.

Dronabinol's supporters say the medicine is scientifically proven to
be safe and effective, and does not cause lung damage that smoking
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