Pubdate: Thu, 01 Feb 2001
Source: Portland Press Herald (ME)
Copyright: 2001 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.
Contact:  50 Monument Square, Suite 302, Portland, ME 04101
Fax: (207) 879-1042
Author: Joshua L. Weinstein, Portland Press Herald Writer


Monday morning, before he heads to court for his marijuana possession 
trial, Charles Wynott will smoke a pipe packed with pot.

He smokes every morning - not to get high, he explains, but to ease the 
wringing nausea imposed by his AIDS medicines.

He has used marijuana medicinally for years, and when he returned to Maine 
last April, he figured his use of cannabis was legal - in 1999, voters 
approved a law designed specifically for people like Wynott.

In fact, Wynott spent years working to get Maine's Legislature to pass a 
similar law. He even testified before a legislative committee considering 
the issue in 1997.

He is shocked and angry that he has to go to court at all. The case, he 
said, should have been dropped weeks ago.

"I fought tooth and nail to pass this law, and it isn't doing us a whole 
lot of good," he said Wednesday. "I'm a sick person. I shouldn't have to be 
down there, trudging through their court system."

Stephanie Anderson, the Cumberland County district attorney, said Wednesday 
she has not been briefed on the case, and is not familiar with it.

But she said Wynott's is the first medical marijuana case her office has 
prosecuted since the law passed two Novembers ago.

She said her office has no written policy about medical marijuana.

"I guess," she said, "it would be up to the judge to decide."

But Robert Kampia, the executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, 
a Washington, D.C.-based organization that studies medical marijuana, said 
that's not good enough.

"If he is able to show that he has a doctor's approval, the prosecution 
should not move forward," Kampia said.

Maine's medical marijuana law is fairly straightforward. It says that 
possession of a usable amount of marijuana - 1.25 ounces or less and six 
plants - is legal under limited circumstances.

In order for the law to apply to them, patients must be diagnosed with 
either nausea, vomiting, wasting syndrome from AIDS or chemotherapy, or 
must have glaucoma, seizures associated with chronic diseases such as 
epilepsy or persistent muscle spasms associated with chronic diseases such 
as multiple sclerosis.

Even then, patients must have discussed the matter with their physicians 
and received letters from their doctors saying that they meet the 
qualifications of the law.

That's one of Wynott's problems.

He has a letter from his physician, but his physician is in Florida, where 
Wynott lived until he returned to Maine nine months ago.

Maine's law says the letter must be from a doctor licensed in Maine.

And he only recently got a doctor in Maine. The Maine doctor he saw before 
he moved away is not accepting new patients, and finding a physician is 
difficult, said Wynott, 37. In fact, his Florida doctor has been sending 
him his pharmaceuticals.

"A doctor is a doctor, no matter what state he's in," Wynott said.

Wynott's legal troubles began Dec. 6, when he and his roommate had an 
argument. The argument got loud and police showed up. They arrested both 
Wynott and his roommate on assault charges, which were later dropped.

When police searched Wynott, though, they found a baggie of marijuana in 
his pocket.

"It's medical marijuana," he told them. "I told them I do have a note, but 
it's not from a Maine doctor, and they said, 'Then we have to take this.' 
They took the pot."

Even if he is convicted, Wynott will not end up in jail. Under Maine law, 
possession of less than an ounce-and-a-quarter of marijuana is a civil 
infraction rather than a criminal matter.

James Cameron, an assistant attorney general who co-chaired a medical 
marijuana task force, didn't know about Wynott's case, and would not 
comment on its specifics. But he addressed the requirement that patients 
have letters from physicians in Maine.

"The point of the law is that it shouldn't even get to the court," he said. 
"(The letter) should be available for the police to see right up front so 
the police officer isn't in the position of having to take an enforcement 

While Wynott's case is the first such case in Cumberland County, it is not 
the first Maine case in which people have asserted their marijuana use was 

Other cases, however, are not quite parallel.

Leonard Ellis, a 62-year-old muscular dystrophy patient, was arrested last 
year. Ellis, however, had 83 plants and several ounces of marijuana at his 
home in New Vineyard - far more than the law allows.

Similarly, Carroll Cummings, who lives in Vassalboro, was 53 when he was 
arrested at his home, where police found 37 plants and about a pound of 

He claimed that he uses marijuana to ease symptoms of the 
muscle-deteriorating medical conditions he endures.

Wynott said he sees the irony in his own situation, having worked for 
medical marijuana all these years.

He noted that he is pretty much the definition of a legitimate medical 
marijuana user, which is why he testified years ago.

"I knew I had the stuff to back me up," he said. "I had everything I needed 
in place to make sure I could have marijuana on my person or in my house. 
For it to have backfired on me the way it has, it's funny."

A pause.

"Not so funny."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D