In 1999, Maine voters passed by an overwhelming majority a law legalizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Unfortunately, nearly a decade later, even with a prescription from a doctor, most patients can’t obtain pot legally because there’s nowhere to purchase it.

But with a new administration in Washington, supporters of medical marijuana have renewed optimism that patients suffering from the likes of cancer, MS and AIDS may soon be able to obtain marijuana legally to relieve their symptoms. The state should help these people reap the benefits of a law that has been held hostage for far too long by a federal government too narrowly focused on law enforcement efforts in its War on Drugs.

On Monday, state legislators heard from a representative of the Maine Marijuana Policy Initiative, Jonathan Leavitt, who argued that, with a new president and new leadership at the Department of Justice, the state has an opportunity to make this law viable for the first time.

Medical marijuana laws have been caught up in the politics of the War on Drugs for years. The Bush administration and Department of Justice overrode state laws making marijuana legal for medical use by aggressively enforcing federal laws. The feds have spent millions raiding and prosecuting organizers behind medical marijuana clubs in California, many of whom were distributing the drug legally under state and local laws.

In March, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the Department of Justice would no longer continue the practice of raiding medical marijuana clubs – a campaign promise of President Barack Obama.

The medical benefits of marijuana are far from conclusive. Comprehensive studies are rare because funding for them is scarce and federal regulations on them are strict.

Nonetheless, such a zealous pursuit of a total prohibition on marijuana defies logic and prevailing public opinion. It’s also done little to stop the sale and use of it on the black market.

Why, for example, is it all right to prescribe much more addictive and dangerous drugs like methadone to opiate addicts, but it’s not acceptable to allow someone undergoing chemotherapy to smoke pot? Why is it all right to charge patients tens of thousands of dollars a year for painkillers from pharmaceutical companies, but it’s not OK to make a more inexpensive treatment like marijuana available?

The answer, unfortunately, is politics, and now that the political winds have shifted, the state should not wait for another referendum, which is on deck after supporters have already gathered enough signatures to put it on the ballot. The people of Maine already passed this law – 10 years ago – and the people suffering from the debilitating pain and symptoms marijuana can relieve already have waited long enough.

Brendan Moran, editor

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