Pubdate: Wed, 06 Mar 2002
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2002 Bangor Daily News Inc.
Author: Michael O'D. Moore, of the News Staff


2 State Panels Back Compromise Establishing `Affirmative Defense To 

Two legislative committees are recommending passage of a compromise bill 
that attempts to clarify the use of marijuana for medical uses.

The Health and Human Services and Judiciary committees voted by more than 
2-to-1 to recommend the bill that establishes an "affirmative defense to 
prosecution, for the possession of marijuana by a qualified patient or 
`designated caregiver.'" The bill won't, as originally intended, create a 
legalized distribution system in Maine for marijuana used as medicine.

Last year the U.S. Supreme Court struck down distribution efforts in 
California, even as Maine lawmakers were considering a similar system for 
Maine. In 1999, Mainers overwhelmingly approved a referendum legalizing the 
use of small amounts of marijuana for medical purposes. Referendum 
proponents argued that marijuana is helpful to people in curbing side 
effects for medical treatments such as chemotherapy.

"With such a large segment of society voting for [the use of marijuana for 
medical purposes], it has been too long in getting to this stage," said 
Rep. Edward Dugay, D-Cherryfield. "This was a fair compromise."

Dugay, in an interview Tuesday before the Health and Human Services 
Committee, accepted changes to the bill's technical language, saying that 
the large-scale distribution system proposed in the original bill "wouldn't 
fly" because of the Supreme Court's decision.

The legal expert for the Maine Attorney General's Office was unavailable 
Tuesday and no one else could comment on the legality of the compromise or 
other issues, a spokeswoman said.

The new bill would:

* Define a "usable amount of marijuana for medical use" as 2.5 ounces or 
less of harvested marijuana -- up from 1.25 ounces.

*  Allow up to six plants for the growing of marijuana for medical uses 
with three being mature plants.

*  Define a "designated caregiver" as someone who is at least 18 years of 
age, who lives under the same roof, and who is a family member or a person 
with "power of attorney for health care."

*  Assert that it is an "affirmative defense to prosecution" for a 
qualified patient or caregiver to possess or furnish marijuana for medical 
purposes as defined by Maine law.

The statement of an affirmative defense flies in the face of federal law, 
which lists marijuana as a controlled substance. Rep. Robert Nutting, 
R-Oakland, said that the conflict of laws puts law enforcement in a tough 
spot, but, he said, "it's workable under federal law."

"It's kind of like driving 5 miles an hour above the speed limit -- no 
one's going to [enforce that]," he said.

Nutting said he had been opposed to the referendum question, but once 
voters passed it overwhelmingly, the Legislature had a mandate to assist. 
The compromise "does about all we can do," he said.
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