No on Question 5

Posted Oct. 21, 2009, at 5:41 p.m.

Do you want to change the medical marijuana laws to allow treatment of more medical conditions and to create a regulated system of distribution?

In 1999, Mainers voted to allow marijuana to be used for treating certain illnesses. The law stipulated that using the plant had to be approved by a doctor, and it allowed patients with specific illnesses to grow and use small amounts of marijuana. Question 5 is designed to facilitate the intent of the 1999 law, but it leaves too many unanswered questions.

There are many patients who might benefit from using marijuana in the treatment of medical conditions. The substance is said to ease the nausea of chemotherapy, muscle cramps that come with multiple sclerosis and the eye pressure of glaucoma, among others. But the proposal voters face on the Nov. 3 ballot is rife with problems. It should be defeated, and lawmakers should work to create a better mechanism to honor the intent of the 1999 vote.

A key problem with the law proposed by Question 5 is that it would create marijuana dispensaries with very little oversight.

Under the proposal, the state Department of Health and Human Services would oversee the dispensaries, which raises the question of whether the agency would then have a responsibility to control the quality of the marijuana that is distributed. DHHS has a domain of responsibility that is already too large as its budget shrinks. Adding drug control to it is unfair to the already overburdened staff, and it puts an agency with little law enforcement experience in the position of having to safeguard against illicit use of the drug.

Guy Cousins, director of the Maine Office of Substance Abuse within DHHS, said any measure that encourages more people to grow, possess or use marijuana will increase the availability of the drug for recreational users, including teens. That argument is compelling.

Mainers, and Americans, are still struggling to come to terms with how they handle drugs. A recent Gallup poll showed 44 percent of Americans favor legalizing marijuana for all uses, recreational and medical. That figure is up from 39 percent three years ago. And 50 percent of Americans under 50 years old favor legalization, suggesting that public opinion will eventually tip toward accepting marijuana use.

But until that larger question is resolved definitively, approving Question 5 is not the answer, because in a practical sense, it would weaken the existing law and create difficult judgment decisions for law enforcement officers. State lawmakers must address this issue and craft a plan that allows patients who would benefit from using marijuana to have access to the plant, while also not unlocking the door to more illicit use.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/10/21/opinion/no-on-question-5/ printed on October 2, 2014