Question 5 on the November ballot asks voters to consider changes to the regulations governing medical marijuana use and distribution, and while proponents say the initiative would be a big step toward removing the major obstacles for doctors and patients, others from the pro-medical marijuana camp say the initiative would do more harm than good.
Question 5 comes a decade after The Maine Medical Marijuana Act removed state-level penalties on marijuana cultivation and use for treatment of pain, nausea, seizures and other symptoms of certain chronic illnesses.
The 1999 act permitted patients or their primary caretaker (grower) to have six marijuana plants, of which no more than three could be mature. The amount of usable marijuana a person could possess was limited to 1.25 ounces until 2002, when an amendment increased the amount to 2.5 ounces.
The text of Question 5 on the November ballot reads: Do you want to change the medical marijuana laws to allow treatment of more medical conditions and to create a regulated system of distribution?
The initiative would allow for the creation of not-for-profit marijuana dispensaries, like those that exist in several other states. The Department of Health and Human Services would issue identification cards to medical marijuana users.
According to the Web site of the Maine Marijuana Policy Initiative, a yes vote on Question 5 would guarantee a safe supply of medicine for patients. State-issued identification cards would protect medical marijuana users from arrest because, as MMPI Executive Director Jonathan Leavitt said, the voluntary ID cards would be recognized by law enforcement officials, something that isn't always the case with the "recommendations" patients currently receive from their doctors.
Leavitt said citizens can use medical marijuana as a defense in court, but that wouldn't spare them from having their homes ransacked by police to the tune of thousands of dollars.
Federal drug regulations stand in the way of doctors' writing regular prescriptions for marijuana, Leavitt said.
Unlike many of the measures on the November ballot, Question 5 has not met with strong opposition, though in recent weeks a representative of a pro-medical marijuana group has spoken out against the initiative, saying it would erode the meager protections now afforded to patients and doctors.
Don LaRouche, spokesman for Maine Citizens for Medical Marijuana, an offshoot of Maine Vocals, recently came out against the measure, refuting each of the proposed changes as unworkable or a step backward from the existing law.
LaRouche objected to the Department of Health and Human Services being the agency that issues IDs. The agency, he said, has a zero-tolerance policy toward marijuana use in homes with children, suggesting that citizens using marijuana for medical conditions could lose custody of their children if they stepped outside the narrow margins of legal use.
LaRouche said he has successfully shown police officers the paperwork from his doctor. ID cards wouldn't offer any more protection, he said.
On the supply side, LaRouche said it is important to have dispensaries but the $5,000 start-up fee required by Question 5 would be prohibitive, he said.
Leavitt said the fee has not been prohibitive in other states and was necessary to show that the administration of the program would not require additional tax money.
LaRouche also questioned the clause that would prohibit felons from running dispensaries, saying some of the best marijuana growers have been convicted for doing just that.
By Ethan Andrews
October 14, 2009
The Republican Journal
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Question 5 tweaks medical marijuana laws in Maine