Source: Wire Pubdate: Wed, 29 Oct 1997 GROUP ORGANIZES TO PUSH VOTE ON MEDICAL MARIJUANA By Joshua L. Weinstein A group of Mainers believes voters will do what legislators have not: legalize marijuana for medical purposes. The group expects to place the question on the November 1998 ballot. Today, Maine Citizens for Medical Marijuana plans to file with the state as a political action committee. Stephanie Hart of Sidney, who is coordinating the effort, said she believes she will have more than 51,000 signatures on petitions by the end of January enough to get the question on the ballot. "We know from everything we've heard and done so far that Maine people will come forward" to sign petitions, she said Monday. Hart, who once was an aide to former Sen. George Mitchell and former Rep. Tom Andrews, is working closely with the Californiabased Americans for Medical Rights. That organization sponsored the successful Proposition 215, California's medical marijuana law. "It's been clear for years that there is broad and deep support for permitting medical use of marijuana among Mainers," said Dave Fratello, the communications director for the California organization. "What we hoped to do was provide a legislative draft that could be widely supported both by mainstream political leaders and medical leaders, and by the public in a vote." He said his organization has helped "harvest the support and bring the people who have supported this into a formal organization, which is still relatively small, but will certainly grow." Americans for Medical Rights has spent about $20,000 on the effort in Maine, said Fratello, adding that he finds parallels between Maine's and California's experience with the issue. In both states, he said, "there were a series of bills that had wide support but either died in committee or on the governor's desk. Look at the Maine legislative history you've got 20 years of activity and no successful legislation. Indeed, the Maine Legislature's Joine Committee on Health and Human Services endorsed a medical marijuana law this year, but it died on the House floor. Maine's proposal, however, is stricter than California's new law, said Ron Kreisman, the Hallowell lawyer who wrote Maine's proposed law. "There's language in California that allows marijuana to be used for arthritis, for chronic pain, for migraines and for a illness for which marijuana provides relief," he said. "None of that is in this law." The Maine proposal would limit legal use of marijuana to people who have AIDS, glaucoma, or multiple sclerosis, and to cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy. "It's pretty clear that this was written to ensure that people could not claim that this law would 'open up the door' to other uses of marijuana," Kreisman said. Also, unlike the proposal that failed in the Legislature this year, the initiative would allow patients to grow up to six marijuana plants, with three of them flowering. State Rep. Elizabeth Mitchell, a Democrat from Portland, said she supports the idea. Hart said she is awaiting endorsements from medical organizations. In Maine, citizens can enact laws by placing questions on the ballot. But there are obstacles. The laws must be constitutional, and groups must get the signatures of 51,131 registered voters in order to put the question to the voters. Another group, the Maine Vocals, is circulating petitions to legalize marijuana for medical purposes, and for recreational purposes. Because of that, Maine Citizens for Medical Marijuana is keeping its distance. "They don't represent a mainstream approach to this issue," Hart said. "They've been explicit in linking this idea with legalizing marijuana for all uses, and that position does not have majority support."