Maine’s medical marijuana laws — wrought by activists and enshrined by legislative Democrats — got a boost from conservatives last week when Gov. Paul LePage signed a bill liberalizing the state’s policy.
L.D. 1296, “An Act To Amend the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Act To Protect Patient Privacy,” sponsored by Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, eliminates the mandate that patients register with the state.
Sanderson’s bill also eliminates mandatory disclosure to the state of a patient’s specific medical condition.
When the law takes effect, patients will need only tote physicians’ recommendations on tamper-proof paper in case of police intervention instead of the registration cards they carry now, Sanderson said.
She said prescribing doctors’ contact information will have to be placed on the card.
Caregivers — people patients entrust with providing them marijuana — still have to register with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
Sanderson said the bill’s main focus was privacy.
“One of the reasons many patients don’t want to register is that they’re sensitive about their conditions,” Sanderson said. “They also don’t want the federal government to gain access to that database. That fear is legitimate.”
In 2009, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder directed federal prosecutors not to prosecute marijuana users who conform with state medical marijuana laws. But in 2011, federal prosecutors wrote letters to officials in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, directing them not to liberalize medical marijuana laws.
Rep. Benjamin Chipman, a Portland independent, said federal policy “makes no sense.”
“I don’t think we need to be worried about what the federal government has going on,” he said. “We’re in the Capitol to make state law, and that’s what we’re doing.”
Sanderson’s bill passed easily without any roll call votes. But those on opposite sides of the issue — law enforcement and caregivers — have doubts about how the new law will work.
Robert Rosso, a Gardiner caregiver who founded a co-op of growers and patients, called the recent amendments “good and bad” — good for privacy, perhaps bad for patient security.
“There are a lot of those older patients who have that old-school mentality and want to stay off the books,” he said. “But, when you’re on that list and you’re pulled over (with marijuana), the police can see you’re legit and let you go.”
Rosso said he’ll maintain his registration with the state as “added security.”
Waterville Police Chief Joseph Massey said the law is part of “an effort to be very liberal with the dispense of marijuana.”
“We are law enforcement,” Massey said. “As law enforcement officials trying to enforce law, if we ask for reasonable information, we should get that.”
As to the new medical marijuana amendments, Massey said: “We are often on the side of privacy and confidentiality to the detriment of public safety.”
Massey said he is opposed to any liberalization of marijuana, whether total legalization or for medical use.
He said he has seen cases where those with state authorization have used marijuana in public.
“When I have a prescription, I’m not using it out in the open,” he said. “The law is overwhelmingly for illegal uses by people who will now use [marijuana] legally.”
Sanderson said she didn’t anticipate any problems enforcing the law, but that personal motives can’t ever be policed.
“Are there going to be people who abuse this?” she said. “Yes. You find that with everything.”
Of the nine co-sponsors of Sanderson’s bill, eight are Republican; one, Chipman, is unenrolled.
Chipman, who represents Portland’s Parkside, Bayside and East Bayside neighborhoods, said police shouldn’t be focused on marijuana crimes.
“I come from a district where we have major crime issues,” he said. “It seems like there’s bigger and better things to worry about.”
LePage signed the bill June 24, saying in a statement: “I am pleased that the Legislature has voted to move the law closer to the initiated bill that was enacted by the voters. I am proud to a sign a bill that protects patient privacy and respects the will of the voters.”
James Melcher, a professor of political science at the University of Maine at Farmington, said conservative backing of the bill may be peculiar to those in “red states” but isn’t terribly surprising coming from Maine Republicans who have long blasted overregulation by Democratic leadership.
“It shows you’ve got this libertarian sentiment in the Republican Party in Maine,” Melcher said. “Sometimes, the best politics are when people you don’t expect come together on things.”
Melcher said the expansion of medical marijuana here isn’t shocking, as advocates “have done a good job making patients very human. They’ve become a hard group to oppose.”
Sanderson, who said she voted against the successful 2009 medical marijuana referendum that led to her bill, has now changed her tune.
“I think it’s a human issue. You have folks out there that are really ill,” she said. “I was wrong in stigmatizing the use of this.”
Michael Shepherd — 621-5662
Article From Kennebec Journal