Maine's U.S. attorney has told state lawmakers in a letter that Maine's medical marijuana law contradicts federal law, and that the U.S. Department of Justice reserves the right to prosecute Mainers who cultivate and distribute the drug, even with state oversight.
U.S. Attorney Thomas E. Delahanty — in a letter dated May 16th — told state legislators that the state’s medical marijuana law contradicted federal law, and that the Department of Justice didn’t look to kindly on pending changes to state law. The letter was in response to a request from the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee, which recently endorsed changes to the Maine Medical Marijuana Act.
Committee members met briefly Wednesday afternoon with Maine Attorney General William Schneider to discuss legal issues. They are expected to move forward with the amendments.
"It changes nothing. We're still working on going forward with it," said Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, a committee member and the sponsor of the new medical marijuana bill.
The current bill, which has not yet been considered by the Legislature, would make it optional for medical marijuana patients to register with the state, among other things. All patients must register under current law.
"There are a lot of patients out there who could benefit from this form of treatment yet they fear engaging in the use of it ... because they just don't want to be on a database," Sanderson said.
U.S. attorneys in numerous other states with medical marijuana laws have issued similar letters in recent weeks, reminding state officials that medical marijuana use remains a federal crime.
Delahanty's letter says that "while the (Justice Department) does not focus its limited resources on seriously ill individuals who use marijuana as part of a medically recommended treatment regimen in compliance with state law ... we will enforce the (Controlled Substances Act) vigorously against individuals and organizations that participate in unlawful manufacturing and distribution activity involving marijuana, even if such activities are permitted under state law."
Regarding the latest legislative proposal in Augusta, Delahanty wrote, "The department is concerned about recent efforts to amend Maine's Medical M arijuana Act, as the legislation involves conduct contrary to federal law and threatens the federal government's efforts to regulate controlled substances."
At no point does the letter state which parts of the pending legislation are of concern. It's unclear why U.S. attorneys around the country appear to be taking a tougher stance against medical marijuana.
Alysia Melnik, public policy counsel with the Maine Civil Liberties Union, said Delahanty's letter probably will not affect Maine's laws, and she hopes it does not frighten patients or caregivers.
"It's very, very clear that the state of Maine continues to have a right to decide whether or not to criminalize" medical marijuana use, she said. "We've made the decision since 1999 not to criminalize patients and the people caring for them."