Maine goes green
It has been a long road for advocates of medical marijuana, who have been attempting to pass a comprehensive body of legislation to support their purposes in Maine. Their legislative journey began in the early 1990s, but did not get on the ballot until 1999.
Is marijuana a medicine? In November 1999, 61 percent of Maine’s voters said “Yes.” Accordingly, former Governor Angus King (I-Maine) signed the Maine Medical Marijuana Act (Revised Statutes Title 22) into law, which took effect on December 22 of that same year. Under Title 22, the prescription, possession, and consumption of medical marijuana became legal in the state of Maine. However, it was ambiguous as to how those with prescriptions were to obtain said marijuana and it was unclear how the sale and distribution of the plant was to be handled within Maine.
As of November 3, 2009, the process of implementing more specific guidelines regarding medical marijuana use, distribution, and regulation were set in motion with the citizen-initiated bill, Question 5, in a statewide referendum.
“Given the results of the election, it’s my responsibility to find the most reasonable way to implement the will of the people while also ensuring that we have appropriate safeguards in place to protect public health and safety,” former Governor John Baldacci (D-Maine) said in a press release. “The law as written has shortcomings that must be addressed.”
The process of creating a new Medical Marijuana Act started with Baldacci’s appointment of a medical marijuana task force composed of fourteen members. Among the group were representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services, law enforcement officials, members of the AMA (American Medical Association), and patient advocates.
“It’s important that we have a diverse group of people working on this issue,” Baldacci said. “Creating a new pharmaceutical distribution system is a complicated undertaking. Our goal is to follow the spirit and intent of the law while avoiding unintended consequences that could create serious problems in the future.”
According to Baldacci’s executive order, the task force was charged to: “Review the implementation of similar laws in other states; Make recommendations on the implementation of the law in Maine, including recommendations for changes in the enacted law that are deemed necessary to ensure effective implementation and ongoing monitoring of the medical marijuana program, and protection of public health and safety; and Advise the Department of Health and Human Services in its development of proposed rules and fee schedules.”
Based on the task force recommendations, LD 1811 was signed into law on April 9, 2010. This legislation authorizes the creation of up to eight nonprofit medical cannabis dispensaries – one for each of the state's public health districts. Under this measure, dispensaries may legally "acquire, possess, cultivate, manufacture, deliver, transfer, transport, sell, supply or dispense marijuana or related supplies and educational materials" to state-authorized medical marijuana patients. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services is in charge of overseeing the licensing of these facilities. The potential need for more dispensaries will be addressed later this April under the new administration of Governor Paul LePage (R-Maine).
Unlike Title 22, this law also requires that authorized patients join a confidential state registry. The legislation states that cardholding patients will not be subject to “arrest, prosecution or penalty in any manner, including but not limited to a civil penalty or disciplinary action by any business or occupational or professional licensing board or bureau, or denied any right or privilege” for their possession, use, or cultivation of authorized amounts of medical cannabis (2.5 ounces and/or six plants).
The amendment will be “the biggest job creator we’ve ever seen,” Jonathan Leavitt, director of the Maine Marijuana Policy Initiative, said in a press release. “In one broad stroke, this will create more jobs in one vote than any legislation or citizens’ initiative that has ever passed.”
Leavitt is one of medical marijuana’s leading advocates in the state, emphasizing the economic impact of this legislation. He claims, “marijuana is already the number one cash crop in Maine and [that it is] intricately tied to small-town economies throughout the entire state.”
“You go into any town and you know all these people are connected in one way, shape or form to the economics of marijuana,” Leavitt said. “That’s the reality in Maine. This is just formalizing what’s already been in place. If you went around arresting everyone involved in the economics of marijuana, the towns would stop functioning.”
On January 1, 2011, LD 1181 was officially put in effect. So far, around 400 applications for cardholding status have been filed with the state’s Department of Health and Human Services. Officials expect that at least 1,200 people will be registered by the spring of this year.