Pubdate: Mon, 01 May 2000
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2000, Bangor Daily News Inc.


Having approved the medicinal use of marijuana last November, Mainers will
have to wait until at least this coming November, and possibly longer,
before sick people can receive the drug. That may be for the best.

LD 2580, a bill that would have put a registration and distribution system
in place to get seized marijuana to the sick, was amended into a study
commission led by the Attorney General's Office. That task force, which
meets for the first time May 9, is expected to come up with ways to honor
the voters' will by Oct. 1.

The bill was relegated to study for two reasons, said Sen. Judy Paradis,
D-Frenchville, co-chairman of the committee that oversaw the bill:
Legislators didn't want to act without a better understanding of the
ramifications; and one of the potential ramifications tossed up by law
enforcement was the loss of millions of dollars of Department of Justice

Justice grants money for a variety of purposes to Maine each year: DARE,
domestic violence programs, anti-crime, the COPS program for funding
additional police officers. Last year alone, Maine received at least $2.5
million in DOJ grants, and at least $1 million of that for domestic violence

Put aside, for the moment, the shaky idea of handing out as medicine a pot
crop grown under uncertain conditions in someone's back yard. The fear among
many in law enforcement -- a fear voiced to legislators by Maine Drug
Enforcement Agency Director Roy McKinney -- is that forcing MDEA to turn
over seized marijuana to the sick would be a violation of federal law, one
that might lead Justice to shut off the flow of money to Maine.

That's hard to swallow, because apparently no one at Justice has
specifically told anyone in Maine's law enforcement community that
distributing pot would end or impede federal grants here. And it doesn't
consider the one real-world experience the nation has with a state
distributing marijuana to the sick.

California began opening marijuana clubs in 1998, two years after that
state's voters approved medicinal marijuana. Justice, in turn, started
shutting those clubs down. The city of Oakland, Calif., in an effort to get
around the Drug Enforcement Agency, went so far as to make its marijuana
club a city agency, to protect the program from federal agents. Even today,
some counties in California distribute pot in violation of Justice's wishes;
San Francisco is soon to launch a distribution program, too.

But California still gets Justice dollars. Last year, at the height of the
dope war between Justice and California, DOJ gave the Golden State some
$13.2 million in domestic violence funding -- almost twice what New York,
the next largest recipient, received. Even in 1998, as Oakland was
circumventing DOJ's will, that city received federal money for a program to
prevent juvenile handgun violence.

Director McKinney is correct in noting the federal government has to decide
to play ball at some point on this issue, since it ultimately decides not
only what is an illegal drug, but also ultimately holds the power over which
drugs doctors may prescribe. But the task force should be less concerned
about the potential loss of federal dollars and more concerned about the
quality of the drug that Mainers are to receive.

That's one reason the delay that the task force creates makes sense. Its
members, for instance, might look to the U.K. Medicinal Cannabis Project,
which under the regulatory standards of the Medicines Control Agency in the
United Kingdom and the Food and Drug Administration here, is conducting
research on nonsmoked cannabis-based medicines. It received approval last
month to begin patient trials and plans to examine the effects of cannabis
on everything from AIDS wasting illnesses and asthma to schizophrenia and
Tourette's syndrome.

The results of this research will take time and there certainly should be
ways to safely distribute medicinal marijuana in the meantime, but the ad
lib method under consideration in Maine promises to create problems of
quality control. Given the recent concerns the federal and some state
governments have expressed over the lack of control in the growing herbal
remedy industry, a state could hardly enter that industry with marijuana
without seeming hypocritical.

Two-thirds of the states have approved some form of medicinal marijuana --
Hawaii being the latest. Maine legislators have been remarkably willing to
make up for Congress' weaknesses by taking the lead on issues such as
prescription drug price controls; they should show similar strength toward
medicinal marijuana, helping to put pressure on Congress to identify and
approve well-researched methods of delivery for cannabis when it is
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