AUGUSTA — State lawmakers and the Department of Health and Human Services have introduced a bill that they say would improve Maine’s medical marijuana law.
Samantha Brown of South Berwick says the bill would force her to sit back and watch her 2-year-old daughter die.
Brown was one of several mothers who joined patients and marijuana caregivers Tuesday to testify against L.D. 1739, which state officials said would clarify regulations in the Maine Medical Marijuana Act of 2009.
The bill would outlaw possession and sale of kief, resinous crystals from marijuana flowers that are rich in cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant that has been shown to have a sedative effect, repressing convulsions and seizures.
For Brown and Christy Shake of Brunswick, the bill would outlaw their children’s medicine of last resort.
Brown’s daughter, Kaylee, suffers from Dravet syndrome, a devastating form of childhood epilepsy. At a news conference Tuesday at the State House, Brown said Kaylee can have seizures that last 30 minutes. She turns blue, her breathing in doubt.
“It’s every parent’s nightmare,” Brown said.
She said her daughter’s condition improved dramatically after she began taking tinctures made of kief and olive oil.
Shake hoped for a similar result with her 10-year-old son, Calvin, who suffers from seizures associated with epilepsy.
Said Brown, “As a parent, I would be forced to take my child’s lifesaving medicine away or break the law.”
The state’s medical marijuana law certifies minors as patients for the same conditions as adults, including cancer, glaucoma and seizures associated with epilepsy. According to the DHHS, about 20 to 25 petitions from minors are considered annually, and about half are approved.
L.D. 1739 calls for a variety of changes to the law, including provisions to allow the DHHS to seize and test soil and plants of caregivers, and allow Maine Revenue Services to access information of registered patients and caregivers for tax compliance.
The bill would also allow nurse practitioners to prescribe medical marijuana, a provision that many supported during Tuesday’s hearing before the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.
The kief prohibition drew fierce and often emotional testimony. One opponent likened banning kief to taking the vitamin C out of orange juice.
Cannabidiol is rubbed on the skin or taken as a tincture. It doesn’t make a patient high if the tincture is low in THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana.
The prohibition proposed in L.D. 1739 backs the DHHS’s “long-held position that kief, in its raw form, is not allowed to be sold” by marijuana dispensaries or caregivers, said Kenneth Albert, director of the department’s Division of Licensing and Regulatory Services.
He did not elaborate on the reason, but the department’s position and the prohibition proposed in L.D. 1739 have already been noticed by the state’s dispensaries, representatives of which are opposing the bill.
Also testifying against the bill Tuesday was Meagan Patrick of Acton.
In December, Patrick told the Maine Sunday Telegram that she planned to fly to Colorado with her 14-month-old daughter, Addelyn, to obtain a strain of medical marijuana known as “Charlotte’s Web” after finding that a dispensary in Portland didn’t sell it.
Patrick, 31, said establishing residency in Colorado would separate her from her husband and her family, but would ease Addelyn’s condition.
About 100 families nationwide have moved to Colorado for the same reason, according to the Telegram report.
Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, sponsored L.D. 1739 on behalf of the DHHS.
Dion, a former Cumberland County sheriff and a supporter of the medical marijuana law, said the bill calls for key regulatory changes to ease federal authorities’ concerns. Medical marijuana is legal in some states, but its sale and use are still prohibited by the federal government.
Dion said he has had second thoughts about kief, which he once compared to hashish.
“I can tell you today that I was wrong,” he told the committee Tuesday.
Dion also said kief would be difficult to ban because it is a natural byproduct of marijuana plants. The powdery substance accumulates on dried cannabis and often falls off it.
Dion said it would be hard to shape an argument that a byproduct of legal marijuana cultivation could become contraband and subject to prosecution.
Dustin Sulak, an osteopathic practitioner and medical marijuana provider with practices in Falmouth and Manchester, agreed.
“There is absolutely no way to prevent the formation of kief, and the prohibition of kief will suddenly turn law-abiding participants of the Maine Medical Marijuana Program into outlaws,” Sulak said in written testimony.
Dion said Tuesday that he’s working on an amendment to the bill to address the provision to ban kief. Opposition to other provisions could prompt other changes.
Oami Amarasingham, a policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, told lawmakers that the bill raises privacy concerns for growers and providers.
She said language that would allow the DHHS to investigate complaints about growers’ operations or dispensaries and collect samples violate the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits the search and seizure of one’s home without a warrant.
The Health and Human Services Committee will consider its recommendation on the bill at a future meeting.
Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org