AUGUSTA, Maine — The law expanding access to marijuana for medical reasons passed by voters Tuesday needs changes to make it workable, said Maine Gov. John Baldacci and Attorney General Janet Mills. Supporters don’t disagree.
“I have asked the commissioner of Health and Human Services [Brenda Harvey] to chair a task force to put together what changes need to be made,” Baldacci said Thursday. “I am working on an executive order to set that up.”
Click Here to view the full text of the Maine Medical Marijuana Act.
He said there are problems with the legislation as approved that need to be addressed by legislators, as there often are in initiated measures. Under the constitution, the Legislature has 45 days after they convene in January to make changes to the law before it takes effect as written.
“They will have to move quickly,” Baldacci said, “but, we are efficient, we will do what needs to be done to make this work.”
In 2004 lawmakers had a similar task when voters approved slot machine gambling but the legislation had conflicting provisions and no structure for oversight. The Legislature created the Gambling Control Board to oversee slots gambling and made other changes in that citizen-initiated law.
The voter approved measure makes Maine the fifth state to allow retail pot dispensaries, a major expansion of the 10-year-old citizen-initiated law allowing personal use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. California, Colorado, New Mexico and Rhode Island allow for places where medical marijuana patients can legally buy pot.
“There is not a mechanism in the bill to provide for enforcement of the bill,” Attorney General Mills said in an interview. “This bill creates some really serious enforcement problems.”
She said the legislation goes “overboard in several areas” dealing with providing immunity from other state laws. She does not think the voters intended to grant such broad immunity when they voted to provide for easier access to marijuana for medical purposes.
“It overrides the licensing authority, overrides law enforcement, overrides the department standards, overrides in some respects good medical judgment in favor of the use of marijuana, beyond what I think the people expected it would do,” she said.
Mills said while the voters have made it clear at the polls that they want expanded ability for the use of marijuana, she believes there are several unintended consequences in the law that need to be addressed before the law takes effect.
“Sure, there may be some tweaks that are needed, but we have a mandate from the voters,” said Jonathan Leavitt of Sumner, one of the leaders of the citizen initiative effort that put the question before voters.
“Like with other laws like this, the voters speak and it is up to the Legislature to figure out how to make it work,” he said. “We put in the $5,000 licensing fee for the dispensaries to pay for the costs of regulating all of this and we think that should cover the costs of this law.”
Mills does not think the fee will cover the costs of setting up the oversight of the sellers at the dispensaries and regulations for their operation. She doubts lawmakers will want to cut other programs at DHHS to provide for the operation of the new marijuana law.
“This will not be the session to be asking for money for anything,” she said.
Leavitt said supporters of the referendum are willing to work with lawmakers and the governor on any “legitimate” problems with the law, but would resist any changes that undermine the intent of the measure to make it easier for Mainers with medical conditions to access the marijuana they need to help them.
“People have voted overwhelmingly for this, “he said. “We have a mandate.”
Leavitt said supporters of the group want to “be at the table” as changes are considered by the governor’s task force. Baldacci said he had discussed the makeup of the task force at Thursday morning’s Cabinet meeting and raised the issue of who should be invited to join.
“Patient advocates will be at the table,” he said.
Baldacci said the executive order creating the task force and setting out its charge should be completed soon.