More MS news articles for September 2000

Task force: Distribute marijuana

Thursday, September 28, 2000
By JOSHUA L. WEINSTEIN, Portland Press Herald Writer
Copyright © 2000 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

Most members of the Attorney General's Task Force on Medical Marijuana believe the state should distribute the drug.

The 29-member task force met for the last time Wednesday, and agreed to send the Legislature a report outlining three proposals. But after seven meetings of the whole group and seven smaller sessions, members never reached a general agreement on how to get marijuana to patients.

The group was divided on everything - even its final report. On Wednesday, the task force voted to write minority reports outlining other points of view.

But it put forward a proposal that, among people who follow the issue, is remarkable: setting up a state-operated medical marijuana distribution center, even though the drug is illegal under federal law.

Sixteen committee members favor the proposal, and 11 oppose it.

Most remarkable is that the presidents of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association and Maine Sheriffs' Association want the center.

"I feel very strongly that contrary to the way the federal government feels about the states doing this, it makes sense," said Mark Westrum, the sheriff of Sagadahoc County and president of the sheriffs' association. "It was the best and the right thing to do."

Last November, voters in Maine approved a law making marijuana legal for limited medicinal purposes. Other states have similar laws, but the federal government has consistently blocked efforts to implement them. In fact, this past summer, the U.S. Supreme Court granted the government's request to shut down the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative, a patient-run organization.

A state law, however, would have an official status the federal government would be unwise to meddle with, said Chuck Thomas, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C.

"This would be the first time that a state government itself is creating a medical marijuana distribution system," he said. "To actually go in and punish someone despite what their state government said really puts it on a whole new level . . . the federal government going against the wishes of the state government itself would make a much more powerful statement" that would evoke a large public outcry.

Westrum, who opposed the ballot question that made medical marijuana legal in Maine, went a step further.

He said he and his association "are keenly aware that our position doesn't sit well with the commissioner of public safety or the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, but we represent a large constituency ourselves, and we are in touch with the people of our counties."

And he said he is tired of constant concerns about the federal government.

"The federal government interferes way too much in the states' rights to do our business and, frankly, I'm sick of it," he said. "If they want to take us to task, let 'em."

He guessed that federal interference would backfire. "As more states catch on to what's going on, and as this issue continues to grow, it's going to be happening in a lot of other states," he said.

Chief Joe Roberts, of the Hampden Police Department, said he agrees with a central distribution center even though the organization he leads, the chiefs' association, does not.

He said it works best and is more easily enforced. "Plus there would be a ready supply," he said. "If you or I got diagnosed with one of those qualifying conditions and we had the need for the product, we could get it, whereas if I get diagnosed today . . . I'd have to grow it from seed."

Maine's attorney general, Andrew Ketterer, is uncomfortable with the idea. He prefers a system that would allow approved medical patients to grow the drug for other medical patients.

He said he had hoped the task force could come up with a unanimous or near-unanimous recommendation, but that "this task force was beneficial in the sense that it got out all the issues."

The report will go to the Legislature, which ultimately will have to figure out how to implement the law - favored by 61.4 percent of the voters in 1998.

The proposals

The Attorney General's Task Force on Medical Marijuana wrote its final report to the Maine Legislature's Joint Standing Committees on Health and Human Services and Criminal Justice on Wednesday. It discussed three proposals.

The first would establish a research program to study the medical benefits of cannabinoids found in marijuana. Ten members voted for that option, as long as the program emphasized research on non-smoked methods of ingesting the active ingredients in marijuana. Twelve approved of it with an amendment eliminating the emphasis on research on non-smoked marijuana. Four opposed it.

The second would establish a medical marijuana patient registry and allow registered patients to furnish marijuana to one other registered patient. Eight approved, five supported it with an amendment that would remove the provision making a list of patients with extra marijuana available to other patients. Thirteen opposed it.

The third would create a registry and have the state distribute marijuana. Sixteen members favored that option, 11 opposed it.

Staff Writer Joshua L. Weinstein can be contacted at 791-6368 or at: