Tuesday, May 21, 2013
AUGUSTA - Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1995, Kelly Irwin of Falmouth found that marijuana worked far better to treat her pain, fatigue and nausea than the opiates she was prescribed. Irwin has successfully grown her own medical marijuana, but she worries that she won't be able to keep doing so if legislators approve new regulations on cultivation.
Chris Kenoyer, of Cumberland County, addresses a public hearing Monday in Augusta about the proposed new rules for Maine's medical marijuana program.
Andy Molloy / Staff Photographer
She was among dozens of patients, care-givers and advocates who packed a legislative committee room Monday to speak against proposed requirements for 8-foot-tall fences, motion-activated floodlights, property setbacks and vegetative plant limits.
"My current growing location meets the intention of the law in that I grow my marijuana on a secure and private deck, which is 12 feet off the ground, with no outdoor stair access," Irwin said. "The deck's location obscures the plants from view. The private deck's location is the only possibility for me because of my mobility issues."
Patients and care-givers said the proposed rules would limit access to medical marijuana for low-income patients and could actually undermine security for growers.
The Department of Health and Human Services, which has proposed the rules, will accept public comments on the proposed rules until Aug. 23.
Regulations must be updated because of last year's passage of a bill that liberalized Maine's medical marijuana law, most notably by removing the requirement that patients register with the state.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, said some of the proposed changes don't reflect the intent of legislators, which was to increase legal access to medical marijuana.
Sanderson said the rules would impose an unnecessary burden on cultivation and some portions are too vague. The rules say, for example, that growers must comply with unspecified "other security measures" required by the DHHS.
We must "ensure that law enforcement officials have clear definitions of what is or is not legal, so that we aren't inadvertently creating a situation where a cultivator's misinterpretation of definitions puts them at risk of criminal charges," Sanderson said.
Several people said that an 8-foot fence would be prohibitively expensive to build and would block sunlight from reaching marijuana plants.
Jake McClure of Washington said everyone's security needs differ, and an 8-foot-tall fence would undermine the security of his cultivation.
Someone stole marijuana from his property last year, he said.
"I built this humongous cage in my backyard to be completely compliant, and unfortunately I wasn't able to conceal it from the road," he said. "It was like a sign saying, 'Medical marijuana grown here,' and some of it went missing," McClure said.
Steve Ruhl of Lincoln was one of several people who objected to a proposal to require cultivation enclosures to be at least 25 feet from property boundaries. Ruhl said municipalities typically decide on their own setbacks, and in many communities gardens can be planted right up to property lines.
"These plants are not dangerous," Ruhl said. "They are not toxic. We should not be treating them differently from any other garden plant."
Several people said the regulations would put an inordinate burden on care-givers and low-income patients.
Many patients must grow their own because they cannot afford to buy from care-givers, much less from dispensaries.
"The market forces on this are all out of whack," Irwin said. "The dispensaries which monopolize the distribution are not able to provide enough marijuana; there's a waiting line to get it, and the price is high. Meanwhile, the caregivers are capable of providing unlimited amounts, and it's a fantastic method of distribution."
Some people asked for changes that aren't addressed in the proposed rules, including a couple of nurse practitioners who said they should be allowed to prescribe medical marijuana.
"I can prescribe opiates, I can prescribe anything I'm trained to prescribe," said Kristina King, who lives in Rockland and works in Hallowell.
"I can set legs. I can stitch your wound, but I cannot, cannot certify you as a medical marijuana user if you need it. There are not enough physicians in the state of Maine who are willing to take the risk to do it."
Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Susan McMillan can be contacted at 621-5645 or at: