Pubdate: Mon, 26 Oct 2009
Source: Times Argus (Barre, VT)
Copyright: 2009 Times Argus
Author: Clarke Canfield, The Associated Press
Cited: Maine Citizens for Patients Rights
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - United States)

Maine Nov. 3 Referendum


PORTLAND, Maine -- A decade ago, Maine voters overwhelmingly approved 
a referendum allowing people to legally possess marijuana for 
medicinal purposes. On Nov. 3, voters will decide whether to allow 
dispensaries from which the drug could be distributed to patients.

Under the current law, doctors in Maine can recommend pot to patients 
with certain debilitating conditions such as glaucoma, cancer and 
AIDS. But many of those patients don't have a legal way to obtain 
marijuana, said Jonathan Leavitt, coordinator of the Maine Citizens 
for Patients' Rights, which is spearheading the referendum.

"This is what was lacking in the last law," Leavitt said.

But Question 5 on the ballot is drawing opposition from law 
enforcement and drug prevention officials.

Guy Cousins, director of the Maine Office of Substance Abuse, said 
setting up a distribution network would only increase the 
availability of marijuana to people not authorized to have it. 
Compounding the matter, he said, is the lack of control over the 
dosage and potency of the pot that's being distributed.

"We have tremendous compassion for people with terminal illnesses who 
are seeking to use this as alternative medication," Cousins said. 
"The concern is a larger public safety and public health issue."

In 1999, Mainers by a 61-39 percent margin approved a referendum to 
legalize the medical use of marijuana. Maine is one of 14 states with 
medical marijuana laws on the books.

In Maine, people are allowed to possess up to 2-1/2 ounces of 
marijuana and up to six marijuana plants if a doctor recommends that 
it would help with their sickness. But most patients don't grow their 
own plants, forcing them to get the drug illegally from dealers or 
other patients, said 31-year-old Seamus Maguire, a medical-marijuana 
user from Portland who suffers from a rare form of lymphoma.

The new law will give sick people a legal and convenient way to buy 
marijuana, Maguire said.

"It's horrible that people that need it as medicine are unable to get 
it without worrying about going to jail," Maguire said.

If the referendum is approved, dispensaries would have to operate as 
nonprofits and couldn't be within 500 feet of schools. They would be 
regulated by the Department of Health and Human Services.

They might operate in storefronts, in office parks or under the roofs 
of existing nonprofit organizations that already provide care for 
sick people, Leavitt said.

Besides allowing for dispensaries, Question 5 would create voluntary 
ID cards for people who are allowed to legally possess marijuana and 
expand the medical conditions under which people could be prescribed the herb.

The law now allows doctors to recommend marijuana for people who have 
persistent nausea, vomiting, wasting syndrome or loss of appetite 
because of AIDS or chemotherapy or radiation treatment used for 
cancer; who have heightened pressure on their eyes because of 
glaucoma; who have epileptic seizures; or who have persistent muscle 
spasms from a disease such as multiple sclerosis.

The new law would expand the availability of marijuana to people to 
other conditions, including hepatitis C, Lou Gehrig's disease, 
Crohn's disease and Alzheimer's.

The Maine Chiefs of Police Association voted 32-0 at a recent board 
meeting to oppose the law, said Executive Director Robert Schwartz.

Law officers are concerned the referendum, as currently written, does 
not provide the state enough control over who could dispense 
marijuana and where it could be distributed, he said. Marijuana 
dispensaries, he said, should be subject to the same strict controls 
as pharmacies.

"It just appears there are a lot of issues we aren't prepared to deal 
with at this point," Schwartz said.

Schwartz said Maine police are keeping an eye on California, which 
has thousands of pot dispensaries, many that advertise freely and 
offer daily specials and discount coupons.

Prosecutors in Los Angeles, which has more than 800 marijuana 
dispensaries, have vowed to crack down on stores that are selling to 
people who don't qualify for medicinal marijuana. 
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