Pubdate: Thu, 26 Apr 2001
Source: Portland Press Herald (ME)
Copyright: 2001 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.
Author: Gregory Kesich, Portland Press Herald Writer


Top health and law enforcement officials on Wednesday came out against
a plan to distribute medical marijuana to people permitted to have it
under state law.

The proposal would create an opportunity for illegal distribution of
marijuana if it became state law, said Dr. Dora Ann Mills, director of
the state Bureau of Health at a special legislative hearing.

More research, Mills said, and not the compelling personal stories of
medical marijuana users, is needed before the illegal drug can be
considered a medicine.

"It is really hard to listen to the anecdotes and say we have to
wait," Mills said. "But if the research isn't done (thoroughly), we
lose time rather than gain time."

For more than two years, people who are fighting cancer, AIDS and
certain other conditions have been permitted to have small amounts of
marijuana for personal use. But there is no legal way for them to get
it if they are too sick or lack the skills to grow it themselves.

That leaves only the underground drug market, which patients say is
unreliable and dangerous. People who might benefit from medical
marijuana do without because they can't or won't buy it that way.

A task force set up by the Attorney General convened last summer and
the majority of the members supported creating distribution centers to
grow and distribute marijuana to people qualified to have it.

A bill sponsored by Sen. Anne Rand, D.-Portland, would create a single
non-profit center as a pilot program. The center would be managed by a
community board and would be self-supporting.

The center would also keep a registry of people receiving marijuana
and the doctors who recommended it to them, Rand said, which would
control its distribution and create clear evidence of how many people
actually benefit from marijuana use. Since most medical marijuana use
is illegal and secret, it is hard to prove its effectiveness,
advocates say.

Mike Lindey, a retired veterinarian in his 60s, never thought he would
break the law. But when his chemotherapy treatments for bladder cancer
made him too sick to eat, he was desperate enough to try, said his
daughter Becky Sentementis.

"We watched him lose his hair, his weight and his strength,"
Sentementis said. "It was really hard to watch him go through this
long painful process."

Lindey found that when he smoked marijuana his appetite returned. He
regained his strength, survived chemotherapy and defeated his cancer.
"When he was cured, he never smoked it again," Sentimentis said.

Lindey became a leading advocate for legalized medical marijuana
during the 1998 referendum campaign. His cancer came back last year,
and he died in February.

Others told the two committees that growing quality marijuana is hard
work, involving expensive equipment. They also pointed out that the
six plants allowed under state law would produce far more that the one
and one quarter ounce allowed under state law.

Several lawmakers expressed frustration with the King administration
for not moving more quickly to provide the drug to qualified people.
"The voters of the state of Maine passed the bill and we have had to
to come up with some enforceable rule to handle it. I can't remember a
time when the voters have spoken so clearly and we have responded so
slowly," said Rep. Patricia Blanchette, D- Bangor, a member of the
Criminal Justice Committee.

While the issue has been popular with voters, it has not with Gov.
Angus King. He spoke out against the medical marijuana question in
1998, and this year cited it as an example of abuse of the
citizen-initiated referendum process, because most of the funding for
the campaign came from out of state.

In addition to Mills, Roy McKinney, director of the bureau of drug
enforcement, opposed the bill because he thought it would result in
legal marijuana falling into the wrong hands. "This would invite more
health and safety problems than it would solve," he said.

The Attorney General's office took a neutral position, cautioning
legislators to hold off on action until a federal court case
challenging marijuana distribution in California is resolved by the
U.S. Supreme Court. A ruling could affect Maine's medical marijuana

The two committees did not schedule a work session on the bill, which
would be needed before it could go to the full Legislature for a vote.
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