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Maine Lawmakers to Consider Marijuana Bills
12/07/2012   Reported By: Susan Sharon

Maine lawmakers will consider at least two bills to deregulate marijuana this session.  A Portland representative has said she'll re-introduce legislation to legalize the recreational use of pot.   And now Portland Representative Mark Dion says he plans to introduce a bill to allow doctors to treat patients with medical cannabis however they choose. As Susan Sharon reports, both bills are likely to face strong opposition.

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Maine Lawmakers to Consider Marijuana Bills
Originally Aired: 12/7/2012 5:30 PM
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Dr. Jeremy Spiegel of Casco Bay Medical says he's evaluated hundreds of patients who want to be treated with medical marijuana since he opened an office in the Old Port earlier this year.   Their conditions run the gamut of those covered under Maine's three-year-old law.  Those conditions, about a dozen of them, include Alzhemiers' Disease, Crohn's Disease, glaucoma, seizure disorders - and what Spiegel says he sees the lion's share of patients for:  chronic pain.

"Yet they also have other conditions that are not, as yet, listed - insomnia, post traumatic stress disorder. I have patients that say they need it for their anxiety and I tell them, 'I'm sorry but as yet that is not a qualifying condition.' It ought to be, but it isn't yet, and so therefore I cannot certify somebody."

As a trained psychiatrist, Spiegel says his hands are tied.  His frustration is shared by Democratic Rep. Mark Dion, a former Cumberland County sheriff-turned-defense attorney.  Even as sheriff, Dion supported medical marijuana and was one of the early supporters of Maine's three-year-old law. 

While the law includes a process for adding other illnesses and medical conditions to the list, Dion doesn't think it's appropriate for lawmakers and bureaucrats to tell doctors how to practice medicine.

"There's a list of conditions that was formed by the consensus of a committee as to what proper medical practice should be," Dion says. "I'm simply saying that medical decisions belong as a shared experience between the doctor and the patient.  We do not provide such lists or a vetting process for any other medical decision that a doctor might undertake in the care of their patient."

Dion says he has no quarrel with continuing to require that medical marijuana patients get a doctor's authorization to use their medicine.  Without one, possession of marijuana is unlawful.

Last month two states, Colorado and Washington, legalized the use of recreational marijuana, even though the drug is still outlawed at the federal level.  Portland Rep. Diane Russell will introduce a similar bill to legalize pot in Maine. But Dion says Maine should hold off and see how the federal government responds.

"But I think it's going to be difficult for the administration in Washington and their representatives in the drug enforcement  community to continue to ignore what seems to be a shifting momentum around how we should define rational drug policy when it comes to marijuana," Dion says.

The head of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency says his department will review both bills before taking a formal position.  But it's no surprise that Roy McKinney and the Department of Public Safety have opposed similar legislation in the past.  McKinney says it's already difficult to enforce the current medical marijuana law. 

"You don't have a registry by which at least to vet whether, okay, the person has an exemption pursuant to the law and law enforcement can move on to other complaints that it's receiving about drug offense activity," McKinney says.

Last year a requirement that medical marijauana patients register with the state was dropped. And that's complicated not only the lives of law enforcement called on to investigate possible illegal "grow" operations:  Gordon Smith with the Maine Medical Association says it's made it impossible to know how many medical marijuana patients and prescribers are out there. 

He says his organization will likely oppose Dion's bill because of the pressure it will bring to bear on physicians. "I would believe that there would be hundreds, if not thousands, of patients who use marijuana recreationally who would be approaching their physicians and wanting them to write for conditions that are not presently on the list."

Smith says the list is already pretty liberal compared to other states.  And he thinks the medical society will likely take the position that if every physician in the state is allowed to prescribe marijuana for anxiety, then you might just as well legalize it, period.

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