Saturday, September 23, 2000
The Associated Press
FARMINGTON - A judge has amended bail conditions for a New Vineyard man charged with growing marijuana to allow him to continue to use it for medical reasons.
District Judge Robert E. Mullen's decision, likely the first in which a judge has amended bail rules to allow medicinal use of marijuana, stipulates that Leonard Ellis, 62, must comply with Maine's new law.
The law allows those with a doctor's certified recommendation to possess six growing plants and 1/ ounces of processed marijuana for medical use. Ellis is accused of having 83 plants and several ounces of processed marijuana at his New Vineyard home.
Federal law, which supersedes state law, still bars possession of marijuana for any reason.
The ruling came after Ellis' lawyer, David Sanders, asked to court to approve the release of a legal amount of the marijuana seized during the Aug. 9 raid at Ellis' home.
Ellis suffers from muscular dystrophy and says he uses marijuana to help him relax his deteriorating muscles so he can sleep. After his arraignment, he said he would call friends to help him find more of the drug.
"I'm fighting for my life," he said. He added that his condition is worsening and that he often is too weak to get out of bed. He grew extra marijuana this year in case he was too ill to do it in future years, he said.
Assistant District Attorney James Andrews disagreed with the ruling, but also commended the judge for his compassion and his effort to act within the spirit of the new state law, which voters approved last November.
"If I agreed, it would mean I was agreeing that [Ellis] could possess what would be contraband under federal law," he said. "The [medical marijuana] law is well-intentioned, but it creates a huge mess as far as enforcement goes."
The Ellis case is not a test case of Maine's new law because the amount being grown was so beyond the limit, he said.
"This is a common marijuana-cultivation case, and we're treating it in a straightforward manner."
The Ellis case shows that obtaining medical marijuana presents problems for those the law is intended to help, Sanders said. Many are not likely to have the resources or ability to set up indoor growing operations or acquire marijuana year round, he said. Instead, they turn to the black market.
"You're starting with a fundamental illegality that the statute just winks at," Sanders said.
Elizabeth Beane, director of a group that was a force behind the new law, Mainers for Medical Rights, applauded Mullen's bail amendment.
"This is the first time I know of in Maine where that has happened. I'm very pleased the judge made that decision and recognized [Ellis] has a valid medical condition," she said.
Beane serves with Assistant Attorney General James Cameron on the task force that has been studying implementation of the law. The group will release its final report next week, though members could not agree on recommendations.
"I am disappointed we didn't reach a consensus, but with an issue as
complicated as this one and in light of conflicting federal law that still
makes it a crime to use marijuana, I guess it's not surprising," he said.