Drug Policy

The Maine Chance for Medical Marijuana

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Yesterday Maine voters, by a margin of 59 percent to 41 percent, approved Question 5, a ballot initiative that expands the conditions covered by the state's medical marijuana law and establishes a system of state-licensed dispensaries. Maine has allowed medical use of marijuana since 1999. But as in California, the right to grow and possess marijuana was restricted to patients and their "caregivers." Under the new law, nonprofit organizations regulated by the state Department of Health and Human Services will be allowed to operate storefront dispensaries that sell marijuana to patients with doctor's recommendations. While California has many such pot shops, ostensibly operating as patient "collectives" or "cooperatives," their legal status is matter of dispute. Maine now becomes the third state, after Rhode Island and New Mexico, to explicitly authorize a distribution system for medical marijuana. Ten other states, including California, have laws that allow medical use of the plant but are silent or hazy on the question of where patients can get it. As I noted in my column a couple of weeks ago, this lack of clarity means DEA raids on medical marijuana dispensaries may continue despite the Justice Department's avowed intent to avoid prosecution of patients and suppliers who comply with state law.

"It's great to see Maine leapfrog other states in adopting cutting-edge medical marijuana legislation," says Jill Harris, managing director of public policy at the Drug Policy Alliance, which backed Question 5.  "What's especially nice is that the medical marijuana guidelines recently issued by the U.S. Department of Justice provide reassurance to Maine officials that they can implement the new law without fear of reprisal by federal authorities."