Pubdate: Thu, 19 May 2011
Source: Portland Press Herald (ME)
Copyright: 2011 MaineToday Media, Inc.
Author: John Richardson


The U.S. Attorney Has Concerns About Plans to Amend Maine's Medical
Marijuana Law and Says Prosecutions Are Possible.

Maine's U.S. attorney has told state lawmakers that Maine's medical
marijuana law contradicts federal law, and that the U.S. Department of
Justice reserves the right to prosecute Mainers who cultivate and
distribute the drug, even if they have state approval.

U.S. Attorney Thomas E. Delahanty sent a letter, dated Monday, in
response to a request from the Legislature's Health and Human Services
Committee, which recently endorsed changes to the Maine Medical
Marijuana Act.

Committee members met briefly Wednesday afternoon with Maine Attorney
General William Schneider to discuss legal issues. They are expected
to move forward with the amendments.

"It changes nothing. We're still working on going forward with it,"
said Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, a committee member and the
sponsor of the new medical marijuana bill.

The bill, which has not yet been considered by the Legislature, would
make it optional for medical marijuana patients to register with the
state, among other things. All patients must register under current

Delahanty said in his letter that it is intended to clarify any
confusion about the federal government's position on state medical
marijuana laws. Instead, it highlights the legal gray area surrounding
the expansion of medical marijuana laws around the country.

U.S. attorneys in numerous other states, including Vermont and Rhode
Island, have issued similar letters in recent weeks, warning state
officials that medical marijuana use remains a federal crime. Parts of
the letters are even identical from state to state.

Delahanty's letter says that "while the (Justice Department) does not
focus its limited resources on seriously ill individuals who use
marijuana as part of a medically recommended treatment regimen in
compliance with state law ... we will enforce the (Controlled
Substances Act) vigorously against individuals and organizations that
participate in unlawful manufacturing and distribution activity
involving marijuana, even if such activities are permitted under state

Delahanty's letter, and those from other U.S. attorneys, says
landlords and other individuals who support marijuana cultivation and
distribution face potential legal action and property seizure.

Regarding the latest legislative proposal in Augusta, Delahanty wrote,
"The department is concerned about recent efforts to amend Maine's
Medical Marijuana Act, as the legislation involves conduct contrary to
federal law and threatens the federal government's efforts to regulate
controlled substances."

His letter does not specify which parts of the pending legislation are
of concern. Delahanty was traveling and could not be reached Wednesday.

It's unclear why U.S. attorneys around the country appear to be taking
a tougher stance against medical marijuana, although the letters have
been written in response to requests from officials in each of the
states, not initiated by the Justice Department, said Dan Riffle, a
legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington,

"There are a lot of people in the medical marijuana movement who are
upset about it," Riffle said. "When we're talking about federal
felonies, anything is going to make people nervous."

He said the tough language in the letters has not coincided with any
change in enforcement or any crackdown on state-approved medical
marijuana suppliers.

"I'm not aware of any dispensaries that have been raided that are
complying with state laws," he said.

Rep. Sanderson said Maine's law and her pending bill are responsible,
and careful not to raise concerns for federal drug agents. For
example, the current bill would ban collectives that come together to
cultivate and distribute the drug.

She also said that Delahanty's letter and the threat of federal
crackdowns show why many medical marijuana patients don't want to be
required to have their names on a state list of users.

"There are a lot of patients out there who could benefit from this
form of treatment, yet they fear engaging in the use of it ... because
they just don't want to be on a database," she said.

Alysia Melnik, public policy counsel with the Maine Civil Liberties
Union, said Delahanty's letter probably will not affect Maine's laws,
and she hopes it does not frighten patients or caregivers.

"It's very, very clear that the state of Maine continues to have a
right to decide whether or not to criminalize" medical marijuana use,
she said. "We've made the decision since 1999 not to criminalize
patients and the people caring for them." 
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.