Pubdate: Thu, 04 Nov 1999
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 1999, Bangor Daily News Inc.
Author: Renee Ordway, Of the NEWS Staff


BANGOR - The morning after Maine voters overwhelmingly passed a referendum
legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes, the state's top drug cop sat
in his office at Maine Drug Enforcement Agency headquarters and pondered
the five-page document outlining the new rules governing use of the substance.

Will drug agents, for example, be able to easily distinguish between drug
traffickers and "caregivers,'' wondered MDEA director Roy McKinney.

Identifying legal users is one of several questions law enforcement
officials and prosecutors had Wednesday as they prepared to deal with the
new law, which takes effect 30 days after the vote is officially tallied.

Other pressing questions: Where do the "patients'' get the marijuana or the
marijuana seeds to grow plants, and how many illegal marijuana users will
attempt to skirt the law by claiming medicinal needs?

Overall, prosecutors around the state concluded that the referendum, which
passed 61.4 to 38.6 percent, would not result in major changes to the
state's investigation or prosecution of drug crimes.

With passage of the referendum, Maine joins Alaska, Arizona, California,
Oregon and Washington - all of which legalized medical marijuana in

The law will allow doctors to discuss the risks and benefits of marijuana
use with patients. It also will allow legally designated caregivers for
patients using marijuana medicinally to help patients obtain and use the drug.

Patients undergoing chemotherapy or diagnosed with specified illnesses such
as persistent nausea and vomiting, glaucoma, seizures or persistent muscle
spasms associated with debilitating diseases such as multiple sclerosis
will be able to grow and smoke marijuana legally under the new law.

Caregivers, as defined by the law, are family members or others who have
consistently assumed responsibility for a person's housing, health or safety.

"Caregivers can grow up to six plants for use by the patient. I have to
wonder how many people are going to try to raise this as a defense.
Suppliers will say that they are growing it for others,'' McKinney said.

Despite passage of the referendum, the sale or use of marijuana remains a
crime under federal law. But Maine U.S. Attorney Jay McCloskey said
Wednesday that the state's medicinal marijuana act will not affect the way
his office prosecutes drug cases. That's because the Department of Justice
generally handles only the largest marijuana trafficking cases.

"We have never targeted small growers or possessors and this won't change
that,'' McCloskey said.

McCloskey said it is possible that the act could make marijuana laws more
difficult to prosecute.

"I suppose you could find a grower with 250 plants and he could say that he
had six plants apiece for 50 patients. Of course they'd have to have 50
notes from doctors for those patients,'' the U.S. attorney said.

Attorney General Andrew Ketterer, Maine's top law enforcement officer, was
not particularly bothered by Tuesday night's vote.

"There is a lot of hoopla because now we are one of only a handful of
states who have done this, but my impression is that most people who smoke
marijuana do so because they enjoy the euphoric effect, not because they
suffer from AIDS or glaucoma,'' Ketterer said.

He said prosecutors would continue to prosecute marijuana cases in "roughly
the same way.'' He predicted there would be a very small number of cases in
which prosecutors might be faced with a legitimate defense of medicinal
marijuana cultivation or use.

"This law applies to a very small percentage of our population. I think
those who are celebrating the passage of this because they think it will
give them the freedom to grow and smoke marijuana for recreation are going
to be disapointed. This law does not apply to them,'' he said.

Data from the federal government's National Household Survey on Drug Abuse
published last August indicated that the passage of a medicinal marijuana
law in California in 1996 did not increase the number of Californians using

When Penobscot County District Attorney R. Christopher Almy looks at the
medicinal marijuana act, he sees Swiss cheese. He wondered, as other law
enforcement officials did, where the "patients'' get the plants to start
their marijuana medicine cabinet.

"There are a lot of holes in this,'' said Almy. "Say you have someone dying
of cancer or someone in pain or with glaucoma and they want to use
marijuana but they don't want to grow it and don't have a caregiver who
wants to grow it. Where do they get it? If they go to the street to buy it
then they are an accomplice to trafficking or furnishing. If you follow
this through to its legal conclusion, there is going to be a conflict with

Almy said he believes the proponents of the referendum had the best
intentions but stressed that "there are bound to be unlawful acts in order
to furnish or provide legal marijuana. ... I don't, however, think this is
the worst thing that's ever happened and I'm not going to fuss about it.
But there are conflicts with the law here.''

McKinney agreed.

"You certainly don't go to Agway to get marijuana seeds,'' the MDEA
director said. "The reality is that they are not going to grow it
themselves and they are going to be doing business with a criminal element
in order to obtain that drug.''

Cumberland County Sheriff Mark Dion, a strong supporter of the marijuana
referendum, acknowledged Wednesday that there are details that need to be
addressed, but said the law is workable and enforceable and is the first
step toward a sensible drug policy for the state.

"This was the the first step [passage of the referendum]. Now we need to
roll up our sleeves and get to work,'' Dion said.

Dion is hoping that Gov. Angus King will appoint a committee to study the
new law and provide some needed clarification and definitions.

"One of those clarifications is where do you get your first ounce? We need
to look at that,'' Dion said, noting that the state seized and disposed of
many pounds of processed marijuana and marijuana plants each year. McKinney
reported that MDEA seized 785 pounds of processed marijuana in fiscal year
1999 and nearly 10,000 pot plants.

When asked if he was suggesting that the state get into the business of
providing marijuana to qualified patients, Dion said, "Well, let's say
we've got some tough decisions to make. There are essentially two sources
of marijuana for the people who need it. The state is one of those. The
other is the marijuana that you can buy on the street.'' 

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