Pubdate: Thu, 03 May 2001
Source: Portland Press Herald (ME)
Copyright: 2001 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.
Author:  Gregory Kesich, Portland Press Herald Writer


A plan to defy federal law and give marijuana to people with cancer, AIDS 
and other diseases received overwhelming support from a legislative panel 

By a vote of 15-1, members of the Criminal Justice and Health and Human 
Services committees endorsed a bill to create a pilot distribution system 
for what is still an illegal drug.

The lawmakers said they were simply responding to the voters, who approved 
decriminalizing the cultivation and possession of limited amounts of 
medical marijuana for qualified people in a 1999 referendum.

"If I was charged with figuring out whether I think this is a good idea, I 
don't think that I would. But that is not our charge," said Rep. Robert 
Nutting, R-Oakland, who voted in favor of the bill. "The people of the 
state of Maine have told us what they want and they told us to make this work."

At a public hearing earlier this month, patients told legislators that 
Maine's medical marijuana law was an empty promise because many of them 
were too sick or otherwise unable to grow marijuana and were left to find 
their own supply on the illegal drug market.

The bill would create a single not-for-profit distribution center as a 
pilot program. The center would be governed by a community board, including 
the local county sheriff, and would receive no government funding.

The center would grow marijuana for qualified recipients and offer 
cultivation equipment and growing advice to others.

While the committee considered the bill, the U.S. Supreme Court is 
deliberating a California case that could have an impact on the 
Legislature's work. The court has been asked to determine whether people 
who work in medical marijuana distribution centers have a defense if they 
are prosecuted for drug dealing under federal law. A decision is expected 
this month.

Assistant Attorney General James Cameron urged Maine legislators to wait 
until that case is decided before writing the final draft of their bill.

"You should try to craft this bill so it will work," he advised. "The fear 
is that people will put a lot of work into this and the federal government 
will slap an injunction on it and shut it down."

The bill has more opposition than appeared Wednesday. Representatives of 
the King administration testified against the bill at the public hearing, 
and repeated their opposition Wednesday.

Dr. Dora Mills, director of the state Bureau of Health, said distributing 
medical marijuana could result in an increase in illegal trafficking. She 
also said there is conflicting research about the effectiveness of the 
drug, and the side-effects it produces. She said smoking the drug could 
create more health problems than it solves for very sick patients.

Mills, who along with Gov. Angus King opposed the medical marijuana 
referendum, said the vote put no responsibility on the state to distribute 

"If it was the intent of the referendum to require the state to set up a 
distribution system, they should have said so," Mills said. "If they had, 
the vote may have been different."

Rep. James Tobin, R-Dexter, the bill's lone opponent on the committee 
Wednesday, said he thought the issue should be decided on the federal level 
and fears the state could lose federal law enforcement grants if it defies 
Washington on this matter.

Rep. Thomas Kane, D-Saco, predicted the bill would pass both houses of the 
Legislature and would be signed by King. "The reason we are here is because 
the people of the state of Maine said they wanted us to do this," he said. 
"Many (legislators) had other ideas and reservations, but that referendum 
was overwhelming."
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