January 31, 2013

D'Agostino to lead Maine's medical marijuana program

D'Agostino has spent her career mostly in social services, working as a child protective caseworker, a corrections officer and a jail captain.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Maine's medical marijuana program, which has gone through numerous changes in recent years and could change more during this legislative session, has a new manager.

Marietta D'Agostino was hired to fill the position left vacant in November when John Thiele stepped down. She began work last week.

D'Agostino has spent her career mostly in social services, working as a child protective caseworker, a juvenile corrections officer and a jail captain at the Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

"Marietta's diverse experience in developing policy and program management, as well as a familiarity with law enforcement, makes her a good fit for this position," said Kenneth Albert, director of the DHHS's Division of Licensing and Regulatory Services, which includes the medical marijuana program.

John Martins, a spokesman for the DHHS, said D'Agostino was not available for an interview Thursday. Her annual salary will be $54,745.

Thiele resigned in early November, then asked to be reinstated. The department would not take him back. He indicated that he would appeal that decision, but Martins said the department had no information about an appeal.

Advocates of medical marijuana expressed concern over Thiele's sudden departure because they had a good working relationship with him. Paul McCarrier, legislative liaison for the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, said representatives of his group met this week with D'Agostino and Albert.

"We were impressed with how willing they are to hear our concerns and help engineer a system that best serves patients," McCarrier said Thursday.

Maine voters legalized marijuana for medical purposes in 1999. The program has expanded significantly in the past few years.

In 2009, voters overwhelmingly passed a law to allow nonprofit marijuana dispensaries, allow certified caregivers to grow marijuana for as many as five patients, and expand the medical conditions for which a patient can be certified.

By most estimates, the program has grown considerably, although the state cannot track the number of medical marijuana patients. A law passed last year made registration voluntary, so there is no way to determine how many patients have been certified or how many doctors are certifying patients.

Some say the reduced restrictions have made the system ripe for abuse, especially because one of the new conditions -- intractable pain -- is subjective.

McCarrier said Maine's medical marijuana program is still new but more changes should be considered. A number of bills have been submitted for the current legislative session to expand the program, including one from Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, that would legalize medical marijuana for any diagnosis, as long as a doctor is willing to prescribe it.

The Maine Medical Association, which represents the state's doctors, has said it would likely oppose any further expansion of the medical marijuana law.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

erussell@pressherald.com

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell

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