Pubdate: Tue, 24 Apr 2007
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2007 Bangor Daily News Inc.
Author: Mal Leary, Capitol News Service
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


AUGUSTA - Maine voters approved the use of marijuana for medicinal 
purposes in 1999 by 61 percent to 39 percent. But supporters told 
lawmakers Monday that the law has not worked and urged passage of a 
new bill that would assure they have access to the drug.

The proposal elicited strong opposition from the Maine State Police 
and the Maine Attorney General's Office, as well as from other groups.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Ethan Strimling, D-Portland, noted it has 
been eight years since the original measure was passed.

"Since then very few doctors have felt comfortable prescribing 
marijuana and very few patients -- even with the approved conditions 
and their doctor's permission -- have had access to their medication," he said.

Strimling's legislation, modeled on one drafted by the Washington, 
D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, would increase the amount of 
usable marijuana a patient can possess and set up a state-run 
registry of nonprofit groups that would be licensed to grow marijuana 
which patients could buy.

Several current users of pot for medicinal purposes testified in 
support of the bill. Bill Trogden of Newport has severe spinal 
injuries that cause him constant pain.

"For nausea, depression and certain aspects of my pain, cannabis 
works best with the fewest side effects," he told members of the 
Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee. "And unlike other 
medications, it is not addictive."

Faith Benedetti, former director of the Augusta-based Dayspring AIDS 
Services, said marijuana has been helpful to many AIDS patients but 
that the current law does not provide a "safe" way for those 
individuals to get the drug.

"Many people living with AIDS are on disability and are living on a 
fixed income," she said. "They can't afford to pay what the price is 
on the black market."

Augusta physician John Woytowicz also supported the legislation. He 
told lawmakers that marijuana has worked well for some of his 
patients, but they have had problems obtaining it.

"I simply do not see a patient once and grant them permission," he 
said. "While this has disappointed some patients that have not found 
a physician in their own community who supports their desire to use 
marijuana, I feel it is in the best interest of the patient."

But the medical community is far from unified on the issue. Andrew 
MacLean, general counsel of the Maine Medical Association, said the 
association opposed the original bill in 1999 and also opposes its expansion.

"While some individuals may find benefit from the medical use of 
marijuana," he said, "the weight of scientific evidence supports the 
use of prescription [drug] alternatives for each of the conditions 
covered by the legislation."

The legislation also brought out law enforcement and state government 
in force against the measure.

State police Maj. Robert Williams said provisions prohibiting local 
and state law enforcement officers from cooperating with federal 
officials will disrupt long-standing cooperative efforts in the war 
on illegal drugs.

Assistant Attorney General James Cameron opposed the legislation on 
behalf of his boss, Attorney General Steven Rowe. Cameron said 
federal law makes possession and use of marijuana a crime, and it is 
clear U.S. authorities will enforce the law, as they have with 
state-sanctioned marijuana dispensaries in California.

"These types of dispensaries can be prosecuted under federal criminal 
law and shut down," he said. "And they are."

Cameron said the proposed legislation goes "well beyond" what the 
voters approved in 1999 and would not accomplish its goals any more 
than the original measure did.

"It is still a crime to possess marijuana, to grow it, distribute it 
or sell it," he said. "That's the federal law. It overrides state 
law. That's the Supremacy Clause" of the Constitution.

The legislation also was opposed by the Department of Health and 
Human Services, the Office of Substance Abuse and several 
representatives of the substance abuse treatment community. They 
argued Maine already has a drug abuse problem with marijuana and 
feared the legislation would make a bad problem worse.

The measure will be considered at a committee work session before the 
full Legislature considers it. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake