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Bill Would Enhance MMJ Law

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
AUGUSTA - Supporters of a state law that allows Mainers to use marijuana for medicinal purposes want the state to register distributors who could buy, grow and sell the plant to people who are legally entitled to it. That's one of several provisions in a bill filed in the Legislature by Sen. Ethan Strimling, D-Portland, to strengthen the medical marijuana law that Mainers enacted in a 1999 referendum.

That law allows people to use marijuana to ease the pain of cancer, glaucoma and other specified illnesses, on the recommendation of a doctor.
Maine is one of 12 states - New Mexico joined the list earlier this month - that have legalized the use of marijuana for medical reasons.

Backers of the Maine law say the Legislature must beef it up to make it workable. Critics say the proposed changes are wrongheaded because federal law prohibits marijuana use.

Strimling's bill would order the state Department of Health and Human Services to create a registry of nonprofit corporations that could dispense marijuana to people who have permission to use it.

The bill would increase the amount of marijuana a user can legally possess from 2.5 ounces of harvested plant and six plants to 2.5 ounces and 12 plants. It would allow nurse practitioners, not just doctors, to authorize marijuana use for medicinal purposes.

"We need to do what we can do" at the state level, Strimling said. Although Maine voters passed the law eight years ago, he said, "we have yet to figure out a system to get people their medication."

The proposal would direct the state to issue identification cards to eligible patients and permit marijuana use for diseases that are not covered by the current law, including Crohn's disease and Alzheimer's disease.

The bill would prohibit any Maine police officer from helping federal agents investigate, arrest or prosecute anyone holding a valid state marijuana card, unless the case involves a violation of state law. Any police officer who violates that ban would be suspended or fired, according to the bill.

"The law that's in place right now in Maine for medical marijuana is not acceptable," said Jonathan Leavitt of the Maine Marijuana Policy Initiative, which supports legalizing marijuana and strengthening the medicinal law.
"Without dispensaries being set up, it's not a real option," he said of the current law.

Leavitt said the state should increase the number of allowable plants because "a lot of these people need their medication constantly throughout the day," so the existing six-plant limit is too small.

The current law is so weak "it's nonexistent," said Scott Coolong of Strong, who says he sold marijuana for medicinal and recreational use and smoked it to control panic attacks following heart surgery until he was arrested last year and convicted on trafficking and cultivation charges.

The state Attorney General's Office had taken no position on Strimling's bill as of Friday, but the legislation has its critics, including the state Department of Public Safety, home of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency.

Marijuana use is "a violation of federal law," said MDEA Director Roy McKinney, and "no state has the power to give citizens the right to violate federal law." The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that the federal ban remains in effect in states that have medical-marijuana laws.

The Maine Medical Association probably will oppose expanding the law to include more diseases because "there are other (prescription) drugs for all of those conditions that most physicians would say are equally effective," said Andrew MacLean, an official there.

"I think it will be hard" to strengthen the law because "there's still a stigma attached to this" for some people, said Strimling.

Despite opposition from some quarters, he said, "people need their medicine." He said his mother used marijuana in California for several months to alleviate pressure caused by glaucoma.

News Hawk- User 420 MAGAZINE ® - Medical Marijuana Publication & Social Networking
Source: MaineToday.com
Author: Paul Carrier
Contact: pcarrier@pressherald.com
Copyright: Blethen Maine Newspapers, Inc.
Website: Bill would enhance medical pot law
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