Maine medicinal marijuana bill debated 04-24-07|Bangor News|Mal Leary Maine voters approved the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes in 1999 by 61 percent to 39 percent. But supporters told lawmakers Monday that the law has not worked and urged passage of a new bill that would assure they have access to the drug. The proposal elicited strong opposition from the Maine State Police and the Maine Attorney General’s Office, as well as from other groups. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Ethan Strimling, D-Portland, noted it has been eight years since the original measure was passed. "Since then very few doctors have felt comfortable prescribing marijuana and very few patients — even with the approved conditions and their doctor’s permission — have had access to their medication," he said. Strimling’s legislation, modeled on one drafted by the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, would increase the amount of usable marijuana a patient can possess and set up a state-run registry of nonprofit groups that would be licensed to grow marijuana which patients could buy. Several current users of pot for medicinal purposes testified in support of the bill. Bill Trogden of Newport has severe spinal injuries that cause him constant pain. "For nausea, depression and certain aspects of my pain, cannabis works best with the fewest side effects," he told members of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee. "And unlike other medications, it is not addictive." Faith Benedetti, former director of the Augusta-based Dayspring AIDS Services, said marijuana has been helpful to many AIDS patients but that the current law does not provide a "safe" way for those individuals to get the drug. "Many people living with AIDS are on disability and are living on a fixed income," she said. "They can’t afford to pay what the price is on the black market." Augusta physician John Woytowicz also supported the legislation. He told lawmakers that marijuana has worked well for some of his patients, but they have had problems obtaining it. "I simply do not see a patient once and grant them permission," he said. "While this has disappointed some patients that have not found a physician in their own community who supports their desire to use marijuana, I feel it is in the best interest of the patient." But the medical community is far from unified on the issue. Andrew MacLean, general counsel of the Maine Medical Association, said the association opposed the original bill in 1999 and also opposes its expansion. "While some individuals may find benefit from the medical use of marijuana," he said, "the weight of scientific evidence supports the use of prescription [drug] alternatives for each of the conditions covered by the legislation." The legislation also brought out law enforcement and state government in force against the measure. State police Maj. Robert Williams said provisions prohibiting local and state law enforcement officers from cooperating with federal officials will disrupt long-standing cooperative efforts in the war on illegal drugs. Assistant Attorney General James Cameron opposed the legislation on behalf of his boss, Attorney General Steven Rowe. Cameron said federal law makes possession and use of marijuana a crime, and it is clear U.S. authorities will enforce the law, as they have with state-sanctioned marijuana dispensaries in California. "These types of dispensaries can be prosecuted under federal criminal law and shut down," he said. "And they are." Cameron said the proposed legislation goes "well beyond" what the voters approved in 1999 and would not accomplish its goals any more than the original measure did. "It is still a crime to possess marijuana, to grow it, distribute it or sell it," he said. "That’s the federal law. It overrides state law. That’s the Supremacy Clause" of the Constitution. The legislation also was opposed by the Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of Substance Abuse and several representatives of the substance abuse treatment community. They argued Maine already has a drug abuse problem with marijuana and feared the legislation would make a bad problem worse. The measure will be considered at a committee work session before the full Legislature considers it.