Maine Approves Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

July 10th, 2010 by admin Leave a reply »

This week a milestone was met in the state of Maine regarding the recently approved Maine Medical Marijuana Act.  On November 3, 2009 Maine voters approved Question 5, which enacted the citizen-initiated bill, “An act to establish the Maine Medical Marijuana Act” (LD 975, IB 2). Since then there has been much speculation, controversy and anticipation amongst the Maine medical marijuana community to where dispensaries will be located and who will be allowed to run them.

We learned on Friday, July 9, 2010 that Northeast Patients Group, a Maine medical marijuana provider with connections to Berkeley Patients Group in California, has been granted licenses to operate dispensaries in four of the eight designated health districts from more than two dozen applicants.

Catherine Cobb, Director of the Division of Licensing and Regulatory Services at DHHS, says all of the applicants competed on a level playing field. “We had objective criteria, objective scoring weights, we had an unbiased committee of four people and we selected and scored the best applications.” There was a very specific scoring system that was used by the state to decide who would be allowed to operate a dispensary. The applicants needed to earn at least 70 points to be considered for licensure. For example, more points were awarded to applicants that could show they would have security and confidential record keeping (awarded about 20 points), while being able to prove they could provide a consistent supply of marijuana was awarded 10 points. Cobb commented on the security measures from some of the applicants. “They range from perimeter fencing to strips on the doors and windows that detect intrusion; they range from companies that will provide 24/7 security at the locations, guards, ways to restrict access, even among employees, to different parts of the operation so that people who are in retail aren’t allowed into the preparation room so that we’re not going to get prepared marijuana diverted.”

The next question everyone has is WHEN can we expect to see the dispensaries open and ready for patients? “Ideally by November. Certainly, Portland and Bangor, the population and service centers, we’ll try and bring those on line by then, and then Thomaston and Augusta or Waterville by January of next year”, says Rebecca DeKeuster, representative for Northeast Patients Group. “But some of the facilities could open in as little as 90 days.”

This new law was designed to allow patients that have had difficulty in enrolling in the registries much less intimidating to those that have had difficulty using medically approved marijuana in the past. Maine has allowed limited possession and prescription use of medical marijuana since 1999, but that doesn’t mean that it has been easy for patients that are asked about possession by law enforcement.

“Under the old system, if you were picked up, even if you had a letter from your certificate, from your physician, you go to court and show it to a judge,” Cobb says. “Under this system, you don’t go to court and show it to a judge; you show your card to the police officer who can verify that with us, and then you go on your way. So I think you’ll see people, perhaps, come forward over time, and it will take some time to start registering people.” The other issue is going to be getting the doctors on board to prescribe the medical marijuana to their patients.  “We will fail, both in terms of our ability, and really our purpose in life, to serve patients if we do not have enough physicians that write recommendations for their patients,” says Tim Smale, who runs the Remedy Compassion Center, which will serve as dispensary for Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties. He also says that more Maine doctors need to consider their patients’ requests for access to medical marijuana. “I’m not sure that many physicians are aware that Maine has a very high level of protections in place, both in the state law and in its rules and recommendations,” Smale says. “And also, physicians are covered by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld that physicians will neither be investigated nor lose their licenses for recommending medical marijuana to their patients.”

In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “Anything worth having is worth fighting for.”