Thursday, June 1, 2000
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - A misdemeanor charge of marijuana cultivation against a Sebago woman may set the stage for the first test of the medical marijuana law approved by Maine voters last November.
Pat Dion, 40, said she smokes marijuana to ease discomfort from multiple sclerosis but did not grow the plants found in her back yard. She was issued a summons to appear in Bridgton District Court on Aug. 9.
A deputy contacting a man at Dion's home for an unrelated traffic violation Monday spotted eight 2- to 4-foot high marijuana plants growing in plain view in the yard, authorities said.
A search warrant led to the discovery in the house of lights, potting soil, timers and fans used to grow marijuana indoors, according to investigators.
The law allowing medical use of marijuana includes such conditions as AIDS, cancer and multiple sclerosis, a chronic disease of the nervous system that can cause persistent muscle spasms.
Dion said she was diagnosed with MS in 1985 and began smoking marijuana three years later to ease her symptoms. She said the plants growing in her yard were cultivated by people staying in her house.
"I do smoke marijuana, but I wasn't growing it," she said.
The law passed with the support of Cumberland County Sheriff Mark Dion, the only major law enforcement official to back the legislation. Dion, who is no relation to the woman charged, said Wednesday that his support for the law and his deputies issuing the summons are not inconsistent.
"The way the policy is now, the officer has to exercise their responsibility as if it would be a criminal case and let the prosecutors make the final discretionary judgment," the sheriff said. "If the person is asserting a medical defense, then we can make the district attorney aware of that and it is their responsibility to determine whether prosecution is warranted."
For a person to use marijuana legally under the new law, a doctor must have diagnosed an illness that is covered by the law and provided a letter recommending the use of marijuana for therapeutic reasons. The law allows cultivation of only six plants at one time and possession of up to one and a quarter ounces of dried marijuana.
Sheriff Dion is a member of a state task force that is working on ways to implement the new law. The task force initially is trying to reconcile the conflict between Maine's law and federal law which does not treat medical uses of marijuana as legal.
Elizabeth Beane, director of Mainers for Medical Rights, said she is unaware of anyone in the state having been charged with possession or cultivation of marijuana when they have been eligible to use it under the new law.
Mainers for Medical Rights is the group that spearheaded the legislation
legalizing marijuana for medicinal use.