STOCKTON SPRINGS, Maine — Medical marijuana caregivers — just like farmers who want healthful tomato plants — are now starting baby plants for the upcoming outdoor growing season in Maine now that the law regulating medicinal cannabis allows the practice.
The change is just one of several that went into effect under LD 1296, An Act to Amend the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Act To Protect Patient Privacy, which was signed on June 24, 2011, by Gov. Paul LePage and became law in the fall.
“Last season, you had to grow inside in an enclosed, locked facility and now enclosed, locked facility can mean a fenced area,” Paul McCarrier of Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine said on Friday.
The outdoor fenced area must be equipped with a lock or other security device that permits access only by authorized personnel, the amended law states.
State Rep. Michael Celli of Brewer is one of nine co-sponsors of the amendment that was brought forth by State Rep. Deborah Sanderson of Chelsea.
“It’s an ongoing process to make sure it is not abused and is getting to the people who really need it,” Celli said on Sunday.
The local lawmaker said he has spoken to many qualified patients about the drug that Maine voters first approved as a medicinal drug in 1999.
“Some say it’s the only thing they have found that works for their conditions,” Celli said. “A few have said it didn’t work” and many “are desperate and are willing to take anything.”
McCarrier, of Stockton Springs, is a caregiver — a person who grows and supplies medical marijuana to qualifying patients. He has five patients, the maximum allowed by law, and one is a woman in her 80s who lives in a nursing home and cannot afford to pay him.
“There are people who grow it and take a loss just to provide it for someone,” McCarrier said.
The recent amendments to the law increase patient privacy and also cut costs for caregivers by allowing them to grow outside.
“Outdoor, it’s more or less for free” with mother nature supplying the light, McCarrier said. “You get the plants going inside and you can put them in the ground beginning in June.”
Growing indoors requires specialized growing lights with timers, heating and venting, nutrients, soil, a water supply and electricity to run everything.
McCarrier is allowed to have six plants for each patient, so he will put 15 in the ground after the last frost and prepared for the upcoming growing season by cloning a pot plant over the weekend. The cloning process allows growers to copy a mother plant by slicing off a branch and planting it to avoid starting from seed.
Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine is a nonprofit trade association made up of around 170 caregivers, patients and advocates, the group’s website states.
A decade after Maine voters first approved the use of medical marijuana, voters returned to the polls and resoundingly supported expanding the law to include more medical conditions and the creation of eight nonprofit, government-sanctioned clinics and marijuana cultivation centers.
Five of those eight licensed medical marijuana dispensaries are open in Auburn, Biddeford, Ellsworth, Hallowell and Thomaston, and two more should open soon in Portland and Brewer.
Among other things, the amended law protects patient privacy by no longer requiring them to register with the state or disclose their specific medical condition — it’s now an option — but all qualifying patients must have written certification from a doctor on tamper-resistant paper. It also makes registration optional for some primary caregivers who grow medical marijuana for members of the same household or family.
Last year’s amendments to the 2009 law will not be the last, Celli said.
“There is so many issues with it because there are so many different strains with different percentages of THC, tetrahydrocannabinol, and individual side effects,” the three-term Brewer representative said. “We’re dealing with unregulated issues here and untested issues.”
Marijuana is illegal under federal law, but 16 states, including Maine, and the District of Columbia have laws making it legal for medical use. Seventeen other states, including Massachusetts and New Hampshire, have pending state legislation to legalize medical marijuana.
McCarrier said even though the law was amended last year, the rules regarding the amendments have not been written.
“The rules were supposed to be out and in effect on Jan. 1,” he said. “It’s March now and this is the first season where outdoor cultivation is allowed. I can see it being frustrating for law enforcement because right now there are no rules.
“I’m going with the legal intent,” McCarrier said. “It’s clear to me the legal intent is to allow outdoor cultivation.”