LD 1539 improves Maine’s medical marijuana program for patients and industry
Today, the omnibus medical marijuana bill that was passed last spring goes into effect. The bill makes major improvements to Maine’s medical marijuana program. Among some of the changes, the legislation:
- removes the qualifying condition list so that any Mainer can use medical marijuana so long as their doctor thinks it would be helpful for them;
- eliminates the requirement that a patient must designate a caregiver or dispensary as their sole provider, allowing for more patient choice;
- adds two more dispensaries to the existing eight dispensaries and removes the cap on the dispensaries after January 1, 2021; and
- allows for caregivers to open storefront businesses.
More than two years since Maine voters legalized marijuana for adults, adult-use stores have still not opened, largely due to obstruction from departing Gov. Paul LePage. In the meantime, these changes will help improve and expand medical cannabis access, including by making it more affordable.
As for the adult-use program, the state has recently hired BOTEC, out of Washington State, to help write the rules governing commercial marijuana. A significant amount of “rulemaking” has been done at the committee level, and we hope this work is respected. We hope the new governor, Janet Mills, will work diligently to get Maine’s new program off the ground. Please send her team an email, asking for marijuana legalization to be a year one priority.
Adult-use sales are up and running in all three other states where voters legalized marijuana in 2016 — California, Nevada, and Massachusetts. In Nevada, sales began more than a year ago. Please ask Gov.-elect Mills to move forward promptly, and share this with friends and family in Maine.
Meet the fisher:
Fishers are native forest carnivores that populate, among other areas, parts of California, Oregon, and Washington State. Unfortunately, the fisher has been listed as a candidate species for the endangered species program. Even more unfortunate is the fact that our country’s marijuana prohibition is killing these little guys off in new and unforeseen ways.
According to researchers led by veterinary scientists from the University of California at Davis, illicit marijuana grows are inadvertently killing off large numbers of these rare animals. The theory goes that in order to protect their irrigation lines and crops from nibbling rats, growers sprinkle rodenticide directly on their lines and around their crops. The rodenticide – which can be lethal after a single ingestion – takes up to seven days before signs of ingestion occur. Within those seven days, the fishers eat the rats who have been poisoned, thus exposing themselves to the poison as well.
Researchers also theorize that the fishers may be eating the poison directly, attracted to the cheese, peanut butter, and bacon flavorizers added to the poison. Of the 58 fisher carcasses analyzed by the researchers, rodenticide was found in 79% of them. In addition, the deaths occurred between mid-April to mid-May, when immature marijuana plants would be most vulnerable to pests and thus most in need of a rodenticide to ensure against that threat. While the fisher is the focus of the study, the researchers made sure to point out that “martens, spotted owls, and Sierra Nevada red foxes may be at risk from the poison, as well.”
Consider for a moment one consequence of the marijuana prohibition and how it makes life difficult, or impossible, for the fisher. It is painfully clear that Americans like to use marijuana recreationally, and where there is demand, there is supply. Currently, most marijuana grows are illicit, and thus growers seek the deepest and darkest recesses of our natural habitat, frequently growing on public lands and in our state parks. Unregulated growers have no incentive to protect against the environmental damage that an agricultural operation causes, such as secondary deaths of protected animals due to rodenticides.
Now it’s time to consider the effect of a legal marijuana agricultural operation on the wildlife around it. Like other agricultural operations, marijuana grows would be regulated and, more importantly, inspected. Environmental regulations would limit when and what types of pesticides could be used. Additionally, grows would be moved out of the remote areas where they are currently cultivated and where wildlife thrives; we don’t see illicit vineyards crop up on remote public lands for a reason. Finally, financial penalties would be placed on growers who violate environmental regulations and inspections would make sure the regulations are being followed. A well-regulated and inspected system of marijuana cultivation would ensure that the industry is environmentally friendly (or at least not environmentally destructive).
It’s well past time we stop criminalizing otherwise law abiding marijuana users, stop wasting billions in tax payer money funding a prohibition that has never worked, stop foregoing billions of estimated tax revenue, and stop fostering a niche agricultural industry free from any environmental rules and regulations. It’s well past time we tax and regulate the marijuana industry.
I've just returned to my home in Washington, D.C. from a trip to the "other Washington" -- specifically, Seattle. My two visits to Seattle in the past month have convinced me that Washington state will probably be one of the first two states to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol.
In mid-August, I attended Seattle's Hempfest for the sixth time in seven years. For those who don't know, Hempfest isn't your run-of-the-mill marijuana rally. In fact, if it were, I wouldn't attend. This year's Hempfest, which was the 19th in 20 years, was the largest yet, with an estimated 300,000 people visiting Myrtle Edwards Park on the waterfront over two days. Each year, Seattle Hempfest is literally the largest marijuana-related event in the world.
And bigger is better; there's safety in numbers. For two days each August, using, possessing, and transferring marijuana for no remuneration (passing a joint) is legal in the park. For a few years, this policy was an informal understanding between the Seattle police and the 100,000+ people they were serving and protecting. But, in recent years, the higher-ups in the police department have actually directed their rank-and-file not to arrest people at Hempfest for marijuana (unless someone is selling it or pushing it on children).
What events preceded this normalization of marijuana?
In 1998, 59% of Washington state voters passed a medical marijuana initiative; then, in 2007, the Washington legislature instructed the state Department of Health to define a 60-day supply of medical marijuana. In 2008, the Department of Health defined a 60-day supply as up to 24 ounces of usable marijuana and 15 plants at any stage of growth.
On a separate track, in 2003, 59% of Seattle voters passed a local initiative to make marijuana possession the lowest arrest priority for local police. After that, the number of arrests within city limits plummeted, and, in January of this year, the city attorney for Seattle announced that his office would no longer prosecute people for marijuana possession.
Seattle Hempfest both led to -- and benefited from -- the local 2003 initiative victory, for which my organization, the Marijuana Policy Project, provided substantial funding. For two days each year, Hempfest attendees see what it's like for the public use of marijuana to be legal: There's no violence (alcohol is prohibited during the event), and there's good company and music and speeches. And the police see the same thing -- especially the no-violence part.
The police and non-police leave with these observations and tell their friends and colleagues. Over the course of the last two decades, perhaps 1.5 million people -- most of whom live in Washington -- have witnessed this phenomenon. Quite simply, Hempfest has changed the local culture around marijuana. So it's no wonder that the 2003 initiative passed, which then led to a more formal policy change with respect to marijuana arrests at Hempfest ... and then the whole city year-round.
And now, support for making marijuana legal has broken the 50% threshold in the state. The three most recent statewide polls show that 56% of adults support "making marijuana possession legal" (January 2010), 54% of adults support "allow[ing] state-run liquor stores to sell and tax marijuana" (January 2010), and 52% of registered voters support "removing state civil and criminal penalties for possession or use of marijuana" (May 2010).
The 52% figure is probably the most accurate, because it's important to survey registered voters -- as opposed to all adults -- when you're thinking about supporting a statewide initiative, as MPP is considering doing in Washington state for the November 2012 ballot.
Because there are many supportive young people and independent voters who vote only in presidential elections, it's vitally important to place difficult-to-pass marijuana initiatives on presidential-election ballots. Indeed, MPP's initiatives have passed by surprisingly large margins in Massachusetts, Michigan, and Montana during presidential elections, while both of our initiatives in Nevada lost during midterm elections.
If we can agree on an initiative that's drafted to appeal to swing voters (meaning it can't be too radical) and it's placed on the November 2012 ballot, I predict that marijuana will be made legal in Washington state in just 26 months.
And this would be a particularly sweet victory, since Gil Kerlikowske, the White House drug czar, is the former police chief of ... Seattle.
Sensible Washington, a group gathering signatures for a ballot initiative that would end marijuana prohibition in Washington state, reported last week that members of West Sound Narcotics Enforcement Team (WestNet), a federally-funded drug task force, seized about 200 signatures during a raid on a medical marijuana club.
From Sensible Washington’s site:
“We have made repeated calls to WestNet’s office, but have yet to receive any assurance that the task force’s personnel have secured the signed petitions and that they plan to promptly return them to Sensible Washington.”
As if stealing signatures for a law-abiding ballot initiative doesn’t seem contemptible enough, Seattle Weekly reports that the same group made another raid on a provider’s home, in which they “handcuffed [the family’s] 14-year-old son for two hours and put a gun to his head. They also told the kid to say good-bye to his dad […] because the dispensary owner was going to prison.”
And then it gets worse:
“And as the detectives looked for cash to prove that the dispensary was illegally profiting from pot sales, Casey says, they confiscated $80 that her 9-year-old daughter had received from her family for a straight-A report card. Where did they find it?
In the girl's Mickey Mouse wallet, according to Casey. She also claims that the cops dumped out all her silverware, busted a hole in the wall, and broke appliances."
Our friends at FireDogLake have organized a petition demanding that WestNet end these despicable raids and return the signatures. You can check it out here.
Pete Holmes, the newly elected Seattle city attorney, is already making good on his campaign promise to dismiss any marijuana possession charges that come through his office, the Seattle Times reported last week. Holmes dismissed two marijuana-related cases on his first day on the job, and several others are about to be dismissed, including cases taken up by the previous city attorney.
According to the Times, Holmes’ predecessor, Tom Carr, had continued to prosecute low-level marijuana arrests even after city voters passed a referendum in 2003 making marijuana the lowest law-enforcement priority for local officials.
This is just the latest in a whole string of good news coming out of Washington state in recent weeks.