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How medical marijuana reform will work

Medical-marijuana advocates hope that the state's first marijuana dispensaries -- made legal by the passage of Question 5 on November 3 -- will open by May 2010.

Yesterday, the Maine Marijuana Policy Iniative released answers to logistical FAQs about the new law (parts of which will take effect in February; rules about the dispensaries will take longer to hammer out). Those answers aren't yet available on the MMPI Web site, so I'm copying and pasting them here:

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT MAINE'S NEW MEDICAL MARIJUANA LAW

What conditions can marijuana be used to treat?

Under the new law, a physician may recommend marijuana for the treatment of:

  • cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease)

  • Crohn's disease, agitation of Alzheimer's disease, nail-patella syndrome

  • seizure disorders including epilepsy

  • conditions marked by severe and persistent muscle spasms such as multiple sclerosis

  • conditions marked by severe nausea or by a wasting syndrome

  • chronic conditions causing intractable pain that does not respond to other treatments after six months

The state will soon be establishing a process for evaluating and approving the use of marijuana for other conditions. This means we can add new conditions without having to re-write the law.

How do I become a qualifying medical marijuana patient?

In order to legally use marijuana for any of the above conditions you must have a written recommendation from a licensed physician or surgeon.

In the coming months, the state of Maine will develop a process for issuing identification cards to qualifying patients and their legally designated caregivers. Participation in this program will be completely voluntary. These cards will protect patients and caregivers from arrest, search, and seizure. They also will allow patients and caregivers to purchase marijuana at nonprofit marijuana dispensaries once those dispensaries are established. If you do not choose to get a identification law, you will still have what is called an "Affirmative Defense", but this means going to court to prove your innocence.

What kind of documentation will my physician have to provide to prove that I qualify as a medical marijuana patient?

A physician must supply a written document that certifies:

  • You are under the physician's continuing care

  • The physician has diagnosed you with one or more conditions specified under the new law;

  • The physician has discussed with you the possible health risks and therapeutic or palliative benefits of the medical use of marijuana based on information known to the physician, including, but not limited to, clinical studies or anecdotal evidence reported in medical literature or observations or information concerning the use of marijuana by other patients with the same or similar conditions;

  • The physician has provided you with a professional opinion concerning the possible balance of risks and benefits of the medical use of marijuana in the person's particular case; and

  • The physician has advised you, based on knowledge of your medical history and medical condition that you might benefit from the medicinal use of marijuana.

If your physician is recommending marijuana for intractable (chronic) pain, the physician must also certify that your pain has not responded to other medical and surgical treatments over the course of at least six months.

You can copy and download a form that meets these requirements here - www.mainepatientsrights.org

How can I find a physician who is open to the use of marijuana as part of a treatment plan?

We are in the process of creating a list of physicians in Maine who are familiar and comfortable with the medicinal uses of marijuana. If you are or know a physician who should be included on this list, please e-mail info@mainecommonsense.org.

This list will become available by December 1st, 2009 and will be updated as often as is warranted.

How much marijuana may a qualifying patient legally possess?

A qualifying patient may possess no more than 2.5 oz of usable marijuana at any given time. When dispensaries are established, patients will be allowed to purchase no more than 2.5 oz of marijuana in any two week period. Usable marijuana means flowers and leaves and does not include stems and seeds.

A qualifying patient may also possess no more than six mature marijuana plants at any given time.

A patient's primary caregiver is also permitted to possess up to six mature marijuana plants and/or up to 2.5 oz of marijuana for each patient in the caregiver's care.

I qualify as a medical marijuana patient in my home state and will be visiting Maine. Will I be able to use my medicine during my visit? Will I be able to purchase marijuana at a dispensary in Maine?

Yes. A registration card or other legal document issued by another state certifying that you are a qualifying medical marijuana patient will carry the same force as a registration card issued by the state of Maine.

I am a physician. Will recommending marijuana to patients put me in danger of prosecution or professional discipline?

No. Under the law a physician may not be subjected to any criminal or civil penalty or be disciplined by the Board of Licensure in Medicine or the Board of Osteopathic Licensure or by any other licensing body simply for recommending marijuana to a patient.

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the right of physicians to recommend marijuana to their patients.

How do I become a primary caregiver for a qualifying patient?

Under current law, a patient may legally designate you as a caregiver if you have consistently assumed responsibility for that patient's housing, health, or safety, or if you are named in a written individual instruction or power of attorney for health care. You also qualify if you are the parent or guardian of a minor who is using marijuana for medicinal purposes under a physician's guidance and with your permission. You can find the relevant forms here - www.mainepatientsrights.org

Under the new law each patient may designate two caregivers and a person may be a designated caregiver for up to five patients. The state is currently in the process of developing additional regulations governing caregivers and a process by which caregivers may register with the state and receive identification cards.

How can I go about setting up a medical marijuana dispensary?

The state of Maine is currently in the process of establishing rules governing the operation and regulation of medical marijuana dispensaries.

The law already puts in place the following requirements:

  • A dispensary must operate on a not-for-profit basis for the benefit of patients (can't pay out to shareholders)

  • A dispensary may not be located within 500 feet of a school

  • A dispensary must keep marijuana in a locked facility to prevent theft

  • The officers and board members of a dispensary must be residents of Maine and must not have been convicted of any felony drug offense within the past 10 years (unless the activities for which they were convicted would have been legal under this law.)

  • Dispensaries will be subject to all relevant municipal zoning ordinances.

How can I have input in the rule making process?

Maine Citizens for Patients' Rights will be sending out alerts about public hearings and other opportunities for public input. To receive these alerts go to http://www.mainecommonsense.org and sign up for our e-mail list.

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