|Graphic: Medical Marijuana Blog|
The Maine House of Representatives gave final approval Monday to a bill establishing medical marijuana dispensaries and a patient registration system in the state.
After a short but passionate debate, the House voted overwhelmingly, 128-17, in favor of the bill, which expands Maine’s existing medical marijuana law, reports Susan M. Cover of The Portland Press Herald.
In a November 2009 referendum, 59 percent of state voters supported allowing the nonprofit marijuana dispensaries.
The bill makes several changes to the measure approved by voters:
• It limits the number of dispensaries, at least for the first year, to one in each of eight “health districts.
• It gives the Maine Department of Health and Human Services until July 1 to establish rules regarding application and renewal fees for patients, caregivers and dispensaries. Dispensary fees will be set by the department, but will be at least $5,000 and not greater than $15,000 per year.
• It allows marijuana to be sold to patients in food and “other preparations.”
• In a controversial provision, it will by next year require all medical marijuana patients to register with the state. All patients will be required to register by January 2011.
|Photo: Maine Owl|
|Shenna Bellows, MCLU: “Cancer and AIDS patients using medical marijuana… will now have to register with the state or risk prosecution”|
That change concerns the Maine Civil Liberties Union (MCLU), which said it violates patient-doctor privacy.
“Cancer and AIDS patients using medical marijuana for months or years will now have to register with the state or risk prosecution,” said MCLU Executive Director Shenna Bellows.
“It should be voluntary for patients, especially when state law conflicts with federal law,” Bellows said.
Kathy Bubar, who served on the medical marijuana task force last winter, said the biggest challenge is setting rules for which dispensaries can open in the first year. “We’ve had a ton of inquiries,” she said.
The eight-dispensary limit means that even heavily populated health districts — such as York and Cumberland counties — will only get one pot shop each.
Additionally, large geographical areas such as central Maine, defined as Kennebec and Somerset counties, also will be allowed only one dispensary, making it logistically difficult for rural patients to get their medicine.
After the first year of operation, the department will take a look at the dispensary system and decide whether additional shops are needed, according to Bubar.
Maine is the fifth state to provide for dispensaries of medical grade marijuana for persons with debilitating and chronic medical conditions.