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AUGUSTA — Law enforcement officials said Monday they oppose a bill that would
 allow nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries, fearing easier access to the drug
 would increase crime. "If this bill becomes law, it will dramatically increase
 access to this intoxicant," said Geoffrey Rushlau, district attorney for Waldo,
 Knox, Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties.


            Maine Patients Coalition.org




Rushlau and others testified before the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee as it considered a bill brought forward by citizen initiative.

The bill, L.D.  975, adds conditions that a physician can prescribe marijuana; creates a voluntary identification card for qualified patients; and allows nonprofit dispensaries, which would make access to marijuana easier for patients who have a doctor’s permission.

Jonathan Leavitt, who spoke on behalf of Maine Citizens for Patients’ Rights, said the bill addresses the biggest flaw in current state statute: access.

Current law allows those who are qualified to grow up to six plants, but he said many patients don’t have the equipment or the permission of a landlord to cultivate the marijuana.

"People access it via the black market," he said.

Leavitt said more than 80,000 people signed the petition to put the new bill before the Legislature.  He said he chose not to pack the hearing room with supporters and, instead, spoke on behalf of "the thousands of Maine residents" whom he said would benefit from medical marijuana.

"There is not a lot that could be added to the stories you have probably heard of: people with cancer using cannabis to lessen the pain of radiation treatments, or someone who was living HIV-positive using cannabis to simply allow them to eat," he said.

Yet law enforcement officials fear creating storefronts for medical marijuana would increase crime, traffic and noise, said Roy McKinney, director of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency.  "This legislation raises concerns for public health, safety and welfare of Maine citizens," he said.

In all likelihood, it will be up to voters in November to approve or reject the bill.  Although it is now before a legislative committee, lawmakers typically reject citizen initiatives, putting them to a public vote.  The Health and Human Services Committee is scheduled to vote on the bill Wednesday.

Dave Wilkinson, of Harpswell, who has stage two prostate cancer and leukemia, has been authorized to use marijuana by two doctors.

However, he testified in opposition to the bill, saying he’s worried about the names of patients ending up on a list if people sign up for a card.

"L.D.  975 treats a nontoxic herbal plant as if it were plutonium," he said.  "Far more deadly are police harassment, employment problems and social stigma."

The Maine Medical Association did not take a formal position on the bill, but said it is not aware of complaints from physicians about misuse of the current law, said Andrew MacLean, deputy executive vice president of the association.

He said "most physicians" believe there are other prescription drugs that help address the conditions described by medical marijuana advocates.

While some physicians acknowledge that marijuana provides some relief sooner than some prescription medications, "most believe that the health risks of smoking outweigh the potential benefit," he said.

Yet Charles Wynott, who said medical marijuana helps control nausea caused by the pills he takes for HIV/AIDS, said people need safe access to medical marijuana.

"Please understand there are patients out there who need your help," he said. 

Pubdate: Tue, 14 Apr 2009
Source: Kennebec Journal (Augusta, ME)
Copyright: 2009 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc


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