In 1999, 61 percent of Maine voters passed Question 2, which sought to protect qualified patients who used cannabis medically under the guidance of their physician.
To date, a dozen other states (HI, AK, WA, OR, CA, NV, NM, CO, MT, MI, RI and VT) have enacted similar laws. However, only in Maine are patients without the guidance of a state registry.
A recent attempt to pass amending legislation failed to advance in the recent legislative session that would have allowed authorized patients to be issued state-issued identification cards notifying law enforcement officials of their legal status. This is a common-sense measure that would save law enforcement officials time and effort, and likely reduce potential abuse under the law.
Further, the legislation sought to issue guidelines for the distribution of medicinal cannabis by state-approved non-profit entities. Other states, like New Mexico, have approved similar regulations, and recently U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder pledged that such facilities would not be targeted by federal law enforcement.
As introduced, the proposal sought to amend the state’s decade-old medical cannabis law by establishing a confidential patient registry and allowing for state-licensed nonprofit dispensaries to assist in the distribution of medical cannabis to qualified patients.
Because of the legislative punt on LD 975, voters in Maine will have an opportunity to vote on a similarly worded initiative this fall.
Also, with little to no prodding from advocacy groups like NORML, the Maine legislature recently passed an amendment to the state’s nearly 30-year old cannabis ‘decriminalization’ laws for possession (LD 250).
As approved by the legislature, possession of over 1.25 ounces but less than two and one-half ounces of marijuana will also be defined as a civil offense, punishable by a fine of $700 to $1,000 dollars. (Civil fines for the possession of less than 1.25 ounces of marijuana will remain the same at $350-$600.) The measure also removes the inference that possession of quantities of marijuana above 1.25 ounces but less than 2.5 ounces are presumed to be for sale.
The proposal awaits action by Governor John Baldacci.
Are these cannabis reforms in Maine necessarily bold or aberrational? Hardly.
Thirteen states, including Maine, reflecting over one-third of the US population, have inconsequentially had cannabis decriminalization laws on the books since the 1970s. Some decriminalized states, such as Ohio, adult cannabis consumers can possess up to 3.5 ounces of cannabis; Alaskan adults who possess one ounce or below of cannabis face no penalty what so ever and zero fine.
Further, in states with medical cannabis patient protection laws, such as California and Colorado, patients in compliance with state laws can lawfully access their medical cannabis products from twenty-four seven vending machines. From a New England perspective, Rhode Island is poised to be the next state to provide medical cannabis patients genuine access to cannabis products via state-run or certified non-profit organizations.
In the minds of many in Maine, and nationwide, by reforming cannabis laws, Maine in fact represents the ‘way life should be’.
For information about Maine’s medical cannabis initiative, contact Maine Citizens for Patients Rights, 207-333-6985, firstname.lastname@example.org, or NORML toll-free in Washington, D.C. at 888-67-NORML, www.norml.org.
Allen St. Pierre, a native of Maine, is the executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) in Washington, D.C.
– Article from The Exception Magazineon May 4, 2009.