PORTLAND, Maine — Voters approved a referendum making Maine the fifth state to allow retail pot dispensaries, but medical marijuana advocates say it won’t become like California, where hundreds of marijuana shops have popped up and come under critical scrutiny.
Click Here to view the full text of the Maine Medical Marijuana Act.
California, Colorado, New Mexico and Rhode Island allow for places where medical marijuana patients can legally buy pot. Maine voters gave their approval Tuesday, 59 percent to 41 percent.
Referendum opponents pointed at Los Angeles as proof that cannabis outlets are a bad idea. There the district attorney has vowed to crack down on places that are selling the drug to people who don’t qualify. But Ethan Nadelmann of the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance said there’s no chance Maine would become like Los Angeles, which he called the “wild West” of medical marijuana, because of stricter provisions.
Maine law requires that dispensaries be licensed by the state, while California law does not, he said.
Maine law also narrowly defines medical conditions for which patients can be prescribed pot, while California allows doctors to recommend it for virtually any ailment.
“You aren’t going to see hundreds of dispensaries popping up all over Maine,” Nadelmann said. “You’re going to see a more regulated system.”
Nonetheless, the director of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency said the language of the Maine referendum lacks proper oversight and control. The potential exists for a dispensary to become “nothing more than a storefront for the criminal activity of drug dealing, which is the experience in California,” said Roy McKinney.
“If there isn’t sufficient oversight, inspection, audits, etc., the potential is there for criminal activity to flourish,” he said.
Fourteen states have laws allowing some use of marijuana for medical purposes. Maine’s medical marijuana law, first approved in 1999, allows the use of pot for debilitating conditions such as cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis.
The original law allows patients to possess up to 2½ ounces of pot and up to six marijuana plants, but many of those patients don’t have a legal way to obtain it. The new law will give them places where they can buy it.
The number of dispensaries has exploded in California and Colorado. Los Angeles alone has up to 800 of them by some estimates, and Colorado has about 100. New Mexico has one and Rhode Island doesn’t have any. While many cannabis clubs have sprouted in Los Angeles, most California towns and cities have rules that regulate them on the local level and reflect the local values and attitudes, said Allen St. Pierre of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
In Maine, dispensaries are more likely to show up in liberal-leaning cities and towns, he said. “Obviously, the Portlands of the world will have more than Aroostook County,” St. Pierre said, contrasting Maine’s largest city with the state’s conservative northernmost county.
More states could adopt measures to allow for marijuana dispensaries with the recent announcement that the Obama administration would not seek to arrest medical marijuana users and suppliers under federal laws as long as they conform to state laws, said Bruce Mirken of the Marijuana Policy Project.
“I think it’s a signal to the states, to voters and state legislatures, that this is something we can do without getting into a fight with the federal government, which nobody wants,” he said.