AUGUSTA, Maine — The effort to expand access to marijuana in Maine for both medical use and by the general population will continue with two new petitions being circulated by Maine Vocals.
Maine Vocals founder Don Christen of Madison said his group seeks to expand and improve existing medical marijuana laws in one petition and to legalize pot outright in the other.
The medical marijuana petition would repeal the Maine Medical Marijuana Act and replace it with a new law proposed by Maine Vocals, according to text of the proposal provided by the Secretary of State’s Office. Maine elections director Melissa Packard said Monday that her office approved the text of both of Maine Vocals’ petitions on April 30.
The proposed medical marijuana law would:
• Make identification cards for medical marijuana users optional, which is a change from the current requirement that users have them. According to Christen, that requirement is an infringement on privacy rights that is causing people to opt out of legally using medical marijuana.
• Make marijuana legal for anyone with a “condition for which marijuana may provide relief” without a prescription from a physician.
• Increase the amount of marijuana a patient or provider can have from six plants and 2.5 usable ounces in the current law to 12 plants and 3 usable pounds of marijuana in the proposed law.
• Require the state to establish marijuana dispensaries in every county and each municipality with a population of more than 25,000 residents.
• Require the state to “establish an education campaign to inform the public on the medical uses of marijuana.”
• Provide additional protection for doctors and patients.
Maine has allowed prescribing and limited possession of medical marijuana since 1999. In November 2009, voters approved the citizen-initiated Maine Medical Marijuana Act, making Maine the fifth state to provide for dispensaries of medical-grade pot. The act and petition that led to its passage was led by Maine Citizens for Patients’ Rights, which is not affiliated with Christen or Maine Vocals. No one from Maine Citizens for Patients’ Rights could be reached for comment Monday afternoon.
Christen said the law he is proposing would conform better with the practicalities of growing and harvesting marijuana while protecting privacy for doctors and patients.
“If we can’t get the people who need it to qualify to be patients, then the law is not what it is supposed to be,” said Christen. “Right now, it’s a burden for doctors who fear the federal government. That’s not right, and it’s not what current law was intended to do.”
In a separate petition, Maine Vocals proposes a law that would end the prohibition on marijuana outright in Maine for people 19 years of age or older. It would also clear peoples’ criminal records of all marijuana offenses.
“We’re going to try to do something that’s never been done before,” said Christen. “It’s time for total legalization.”
Christen’s group, which has been advocating for the legalization of marijuana for years, will circulate the petitions in the next few months with the intention of putting questions on the November 2011 ballot. The effort will begin in earnest this weekend at Maine Vocals’ MainePeace Jam Festival, which begins Friday in Harmony.
Under Maine law, proponents of a citizen initiative have 18 months from the date their petitions were certified to submit their signatures to the Secretary of State. Based on the last gubernatorial election, more than 55,000 signatures would be required to make the ballot.
Packard said a third petition that has to do with casino legalization is also working its way toward certification, but she couldn’t provide many details because it is still being worked on by the Legislature’s Revisor of Statutes. She said the petition was initiated by Stavros Mendros of Lewiston, who could not be reached for comment.