BANGOR, Maine — There are at least 15 bills before state legislators in Augusta regarding medical marijuana, including one that would tax and regulate the medicinal herb in the same way alcohol is handled in Maine.
“Some are good and some are not so good,” Roxanne Munksgaard, a downtown gallery owner and patient who also is a member of the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine’s patient advocacy committee, said of the proposed bills.
Hillary Lister, Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine’s director, gave a rundown of the bills to members of the growers group and medical marijuana patients on Monday at a networking session held at Captain Nick’s restaurant.
“A lot of this is in anticipation of legalization,” Lister said to a group of 30 people, some of whom traveled from Newport, Frankfort, Brownville and Hermon, among other communities. Most were middle-aged couples.
Legalize Maine and the Marijuana Policy Project are two groups collecting signatures for citizen referendums to legalize pot, possibly in 2016.
State Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, is sponsoring five pieces of medical marijuana legislation, one that is her fourth attempt to legalize recreational use of marijuana for adults.
Her other bills would remove the word “debilitating” from the term “medical condition” in the law, would allow registered dispensaries to be for-profit and would tax and regulate the painkilling drug with laws similar to those that regulate alcohol.
Another bill, brought forward by the Department of Public Safety, would set a limit for the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the mind-altering ingredient in marijuana, that would be allowed in the bloodstream of drivers.
“It’s of concern,” said Lister. “THC in the bloodstream doesn’t have a direct correlation to a person’s ability to drive. There are already laws in place for reckless driving, operating under the influence and field sobriety tests. So it’s not like they can’t enforce for dangerous driving.”
Several other states, including Colorado and Washington, have added THC blood-level laws that enforce a limit of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood.
“For those taking tinctures, salves and edibles, the [THC levels] are going to stay longer,” Lister said.
Marijuana stays in a person’s fat for up to a month, she said.
Russell and Rep. Deb Sanderson, R-Chelsea, both have put forth bills to increase or remove the limit on patients that may be served by a primary caregiver, which is set at five.
“Diane Russell’s is a pretty open-ended bill that allows caregivers to basically act as dispensaries,” Lister said.
Sanderson’s version would keep the same plant limit but would allow caregivers to sell any excess.
“We did get the law changed about 1½ years ago to allow a caregiver to donate it,” Lister said. Under Sanderson’s bill, “they can provide that to another qualified patient.”
“The law right now allows you to give it away or destroy it,” said Steve Ruhl, a Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine board member. “I think this is a really important one.”
State Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, a freshman in Augusta, has submitted a bill that would allow medical marijuana patients legal access to their prescriptions in a hospital.
Another bill that only has a title would allow underage medical marijuana patients to access nonsmokable types of medical medicine in school if the medicine helped them stay in their classes.
“They could not stop a treatment if it’s part of a doctor’s treatment plan,” said Lister, adding that parents of children with epilepsy and cancer asked for the bill to be drafted.
Others remove marijuana use questions from the concealed weapons permit application, add tax deductions forms, and create new designation cards, rules for complaints and caregiver incorporations.
Maine voters first approved medical marijuana in 1999, which allowed patients to grow their own supply or select a caregiver to grow it for them. In 2009, the law was expanded to include more permitted medical conditions and to allow patients to buy from eight nonprofit, government-sanctioned clinics and marijuana cultivation centers.
Amendments have been made to the law to include more medical conditions, eliminate the need for patients to register with the state, and last year, the word “physician” was replaced with “medical provider” to allow nurse practitioners to prescribe the medication and the definition of prepared marijuana was changed to allow byproducts, including concentrates such as honey oil.
Roy thanked those who attended the meeting to learn.
“There is a record number of legislative bills that affect us,” he said. “We are here to make sure this stays a cottage industry in Maine.”