April 7, 2010

Maine Closer to Having Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

April 7, 2010
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A bill to set up a dispensary and distribution system under Maine’s medical marijuana law is awaiting a final Senate vote. The House voted 126-17 in favor of the bill earlier this week. The House bill allows up to eight dispensaries. Maine has allowed medical marijuana since 1999. On November 3, 2009 Maine voters approved Question 5, which enacted the citizen-initiated bill, “An act to establish the Maine Medical Marijuana Act” (LD 975, IB 2). Maine is the fifth state to allow medical marijuana dispensaries. These not-for-profit dispensaries will be licensed and regulated by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, however, specific rules have not been set.

When will dispensaries open? Governor Baldacci’s press release on November 6, 2009 contained an executive order which set up a task force chaired by Brenda Harvey, Commissioner of DHHS. The Task Force issued its first report on January 27, 2010. The report recommended further review, and for another report to be delivered to the next Legislature. Assuming that the Task Force finalizes their recommendation by the next legislature (I wouldn’t hold my breath), statutory laws will be finalized, and the dispensary rules will be set.

Even though there are currently no rules in place for dispensaries, it hasn’t stopped local governments from taking pre-emptive action and enacting moratoriums. According to Maine’s DHHS website, “Initially one community enacted a moratorium on the dispensaries. Brewer’s city council voted unanimously to ban dispensaries for six months until the state rules and procedures for operating the dispensaries are in place. Since then Auburn, Ellsworth and South Portland have enacted or plan to enact similar moratoriums. Bangor has begun working on zoning ordinances to accommodate dispensaries.” You can follow the process by visiting the Maine legislature’s website, and see when the Senate will schedule a vote.

Maine is experiencing similar problems that other jurisdictions have encountered when they tried to start a dispensary system. Take for instance Washington D.C. They approved medical marijuana over a decade ago, yet funding has stalled it from being implemented. The problem has been delayed even further as D.C. hammers out rules for a dispensary system. High profile conflicts over dispensaries in California and Colorado has no doubt affected the process in East Coast jurisdictions; resulting in politicians, task force participants, and members from the community being very skeptical every step of the way. I just hope skepticism isn’t being used as a front for intentional delays, as there are patients that desperately need better access to their medicine in Maine!

Photo by bangormetro.com

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