Maine’s Medical Marijuana Law – Part One

Rob Poindexter

Updated 4 years ago

In November of 2009, voters passed a citizens initiative, making Maine the 15th state to have a medical marijuana law on the books.Changes to that law are at the center of a number of complaints from licensed caregivers and patients who say their privacy and rights are being violated.Jon Steward is one of those licensed medical marijuana caregivers and, as a disabled veteran with chronic back pain, he’s also a patient. By law he can grow marijuana for up to 5 patients plus himself. Under current rules, caregivers can grow six flowering marijuana plants per patient and have 2 1/2 ounces of prepared marijuana per patient.Steward and other caregivers say there’s a lot of gray area as to what is considered a flowering plant and what’s ready to harvest. He says that confusion creates a balancing act for caregivers between maintaining the best possible medicine for their patients and staying within the boundaries of the law. “And we all live in fear that the local MDEA officer who decides to get a hair across his butt and come raid us is gonna start counting vegetative plants as marijuana,” Steward. According to Steward the growing process can take up to 7 or 8 months if it’s done right and it’s impossible to tell how much useable marijuana each plant will produce. “You can’t harvest it before it’s finished either. I mean to harvest this plant now would not be providing good care to my patients,” Steward says, “this is immature.” “It’s not as potent as it could be. You don’t sell corn before it’s ready.”Regulations that caregivers and patients must abide by are monitored by the Department of Health & Human Services. In order to be a certified medical marijuana patient or caregiver, you must have a registry identification card issued by DHHS. The fee for a caregiver is $300 per patient and the patient pays an additional $100 before they’re both considered legal.In addition patients needs a recommendation from their doctor sent to DHHS, which contains confidential medical information. No other medication has this requirement. Caregivers from all over Eastern maine tell me they’re fed up with the way DHHS is running this mandatory program. “They’re extremely inefficient,” Steward says. “We’ve had multiple cases of people waiting 6, 7, 8 weeks or more for their cards though the DHHS is cashing their checks.”Kathy Cobb is the Director of Licensing and Regulatory Services at DHHS. She defends the registry card system as a quick way for law enforcement to verify who’s legally allowed to have marijuana.Caregivers frustrations boiled over at a protest at DHHS in April. “My family is suffering!! We’ve been waiting since January!!” one woman shouted in the lobby at DHHS. “We have people who have submitted their applications in January and had their checks cashed who still don’t posess a card,” says Jacob McClure a caregiver & patient. “Which puts them in a tight legal position because as of January 1st, the law stipulates that you must be in possession of a registry identification card to have any protection from the law.”Katherine Cobb says they’ve got all hands on deck. She’s shifted resources and now has all 5 members of her staff working on issuing medical marijuana patient and caregiver cards. “We’re processing cards as quickly as we can,” she says.Cobb says her small staff is having trouble keeping up as the number of applicants is on the rise. “In January, we issued 204 cards. February we issued 155. March we issued 287. In April we issued 221.”There’s now 1200 patients, 312 caregivers, and more than 100 doctors participating in the medical marijuana program. Some protestors were also told DHHS lacked portions of their confidential medical records their doctors say they already faxed to this office. “I think people want to know, if you don’t have my confidential sensitive information than who does?” says McClure.Cobb says she’s confident the problem is not at DHHS. “We can’t guarantee the numbers that are punched in to the fax machine at the doctor’s office,” she said. “We have a dedicated fax machine here so there’s not very far from that fax machine to the filing cabinet for information to go missing. So I can’t explain that.” Cobb says she’s hoping things will go more smoothly when the card renewal process begins in a few months. She wants to remind everyone that this is a new program for everyone. “There’s a balance between what marijuana patients believe is their right to privacy and a mandatory registration system and that will all get resolved at some point.”


MENU