MAINE: Considers Medical Marijuana Law Implementation
A Maine task force will meet today to begin contemplating how to reconcile the state's new medical marijuana law with federal rules prohibiting use of the drug, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Maine voters passed an initiative last November legalizing marijuana, and legislators have since proposed that the state supply the drug to AIDS, cancer and glaucoma patients who are too sick to grown their own. State Attorney General Andrew Ketterer (D) has been charged with the task of "find[ing] a way to obey the will of the people, devise a distribution system -- and not break federal law." Ketterer's panel, which will meet today with a representative from the U.S. Attorney's Office, hopes to devise a plan by this fall, but with all sides on the issue lobbying hard, "[t]hat will be difficult," the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
Most law enforcement officials adamantly oppose the initiative and the plan to expand patients' access to marijuana. Portland Chief of Police Michael Chitwood said, "The Maine drug enforcement agencies would be responsible for distributing the marijuana for medical use, which to me is nuts. They are out there fighting the war on drugs and making arrests and confiscating drugs, and now they are expected to give it out?" But patients' advocate Elizabeth Beane, head of Mainers for Medical Rights, said, "If you are an ill patient, it is nothing other than a medical issue. People should have access to medication that works." For his part, Ketterer sympathizes with patients' needs, but also says he wants to avoid "get[ting] into an armed conflict with the federal government." One option the task force will consider is creating a state research program on medical marijuana that would then petition the federal government to allow patients to use the drug "in the interest of science." However, Dr. Owen Pickus, an oncologist, "scoffed" at the idea, noting, "Everyone knows it's not going to be research." Pickus believes the plant is "medically useful," but maintains that the debate puts doctors "in a very awkward position." He said, "I don't want to be in the courtroom debating whether this patient vomited enough to get the drug and whether they tried everything else first." Maine is the first Eastern state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes. Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California have passed similar ballot initiatives. Last month, Hawaii's Legislature passed a medical marijuana law (Vedantam, Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/9).