PORTLAND – Scot Gisseman, a Gulf War combat veteran from the Oxford County town of Andover, said medical marijuana effectively reduces the pain and tremors he suffers from a parachuting accident that damaged his hip, caused a head injury and broke several bones.
Gisseman and his wife, Laura, were among more than 250 people who attended an educational forum on medical marijuana Thursday night at the Woodfords Club.
The meeting drew medical marijuana patients, caregivers — those who help patients obtain medicinal marijuana — representatives from marijuana dispensaries, and people who wanted to learn more about changes to Maine’s medical marijuana law that will take effect Wednesday.
One change will eliminate the mandate that medical marijuana patients register with the state and disclose their medical conditions. Patients will be required only to carry their doctor’s treatment recommendations on tamper-proof paper.
Marijuana “does what it says and it doesn’t take you out of the (mental) game,” said Gisseman, 45, who believes that other veterans are being overmedicated with opiates that have serious side effects. “It does improve your quality of life.”
Brad Feuer, chief executive officer of Integr8 Health LLC of Falmouth, one of the event’s sponsors, said it was an effort to bring patients, caregivers and dispensaries together for one night to make connections, learn about the ramifications of the new law and hear about the benefits of medical marijuana.
For the past year, Gisseman has been seeing Dr. Dustin Sulak, a nationally recognized expert on medical marijuana. Sulak, one of the forum’s keynote speakers, operates a medical marijuana practice through Intregr8 Health LLC.
Sulak said the most common condition he treats is chronic pain. Rather than take addictive opiates such as oxycodone, Sulak said, his patients seem to respond better to medicinal marijuana.
He has prescribed marijuana for patients with cancer, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, Crohn’s disease and Hepatitis C. It decreases the intensity of the chronic pain associated with those diseases, Sulak said, and research is beginning to show that it can be used to treat diseases.
When Sulak showed a slide of Jamaican reggae musicians Peter Tosh and Bob Marley alongside rock musician Mick Jagger — they all sported broad smiles — the audience burst into laughter.
“Marijuana can increase a person’s enjoyment of life,” Sulak said. “It can inspire people to do things with their life that they normally would not do. And it can affect their creativity.”
Sulak said marijuana doesn’t have to be smoked. It can be used topically in lotion form, through tinctures — drops of liquid concentrate placed under the tongue — or through vapors.
Glenn Peterson operates Biddeford-based Canuvo, the only licensed medical marijuana dispensary for York County. He said Canuvo is serving about 70 patients, and that the need for medical marijuana is far greater than the available product.
It can take as long as five months to grow a crop. Peterson said Canuvo has had to stop accepting new patients until its crop can keep pace with demand.
“It’s a wonderful revolution that is happening in Maine, but people have to realize it is going to take time to get all the needs served,” he said.
Alysia Melnick, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, lobbied the Legislature for the new medical marijuana bill. She was successful, but pointed out that growing and selling marijuana is still considered a crime by the federal government.
Maine law allows a certified patient to possess as much as 2.5 ounces of marijuana. Patients may also grow their own.
Federal laws must be changed to align with state regulations, Melnick said.
She said Thursday’s audience represented a group of people that is growing and using medical marijuana because it benefits their health.
“We’re not talking about a bunch of potheads who want to get high,” she said.
Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]