March 31, 2013

End result of pot law has some surprises

Ambiguity surrounding medical marijuana can sometimes leave property owners and law enforcers in a kind of limbo.

By Eric Russell
Staff Writer

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Albert said the state has been good at the administrative aspect of setting up medical marijuana dispensaries and approving caregivers, but has fallen short on the enforcement and compliance side.

Albert said DHHS can only do what the Legislature allows, and lawmakers from both parties have eroded many of the checks and balances within the system.

Some regulations do exist. Earlier this month, DHHS investigated a complaint at a medical marijuana dispensary in Lewiston. The investigation found 20 state rule violations – most notably, the use of pesticides on the plants. The state cited Wellness Connection of Maine for its "security, governance, inventory control and disposal of unused products."

Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, said no one was concerned about pesticides when the expanded law was passed in 2009 or when the law was amended again in 2011.

"If we didn't anticipate that, what else might we be missing?" she said.

Dispensaries must be inspected annually per state law, but most of them have not been open that long. The Maine Sunday Telegram requested information about any inspections that have been done so far. That information is still pending. Albert said that there have not been any other complaints made about dispensaries.

But while there is a mechanism for inspecting dispensaries, there is nothing similar for caregivers.

In fact, the 2011 law change eliminated the state's ability to oversee caregivers' growing operations.

That's why the couple in the West End hit a wall everywhere they tried to get help. No one had any authority.

Ambiguity in Maine's medical marijuana law has created other problems, too:

In January, a Scarborough business owner complained about a neighboring tenant who was using office space to grow medical marijuana. Shawn Swaney said the smell was so strong at times that his employees suffered side effects. Swaney first went to police, but learned there was nothing illegal about the grow operation. He then asked the property manager to intervene and insist that the other tenant install ventilation.

In February, a lawsuit believed to be the first of its kind in Maine was filed by a Pittsfield woman who claimed that a former employer refused to rehire her once she disclosed that she uses marijuana for medical reasons.

Last fall, shortly before the college school year began, a Falmouth doctor, Dustin Sulak, placed an advertisement in alternative weekly newspapers that offered a college discount on medical marijuana evaluations. State officials said at the time that offering the discount was not appropriate, but no action was taken.

Also last fall, the Maine State Housing Authority temporarily banned Section 8 housing clients from growing or using medical marijuana. The authority's board later voted to suspend the ban for six months to gather more information and develop a clearer policy.

Taken together, these examples demonstrate that Maine's medical marijuana law is not crystal clear in many areas.

The situation involving the condo owners in Portland appears to be a new complaint.

Marshall, the city councilor, said in the six years he has been in office, he's never heard a concern that involves growing medical marijuana.

Marshall also said the smell of marijuana is a nuisance but does not pose any health risks, even for children.

"What if he was brewing beer and someone said they didn't like the smell of fermentation? Would that be any different?" Marshall said.

The Portland couple doesn't feel the comparison is comparable.

"What about the right to the quiet enjoyment of my home?" the woman asked. "Clearly, no one had the best interest of the rest of us in mind when the lax laws were passed."

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