A state agency has denied a petition to allow medical marijuana to be prescribed for treatment of addiction to opioids and other drugs.

Dawson Julia, a medical marijuana caregiver in Unity, filed the petition Jan. 12 and was informed of the denial Monday in a letter from Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew. Julia had sought to add “Addiction to Opiates and drugs derived from chemical synthesis” to the list of debilitating medical conditions that qualify for medical marijuana prescriptions. The list currently includes glaucoma, cancer and other conditions.

At a DHHS hearing in April, Julia and other caregivers testified in favor of allowing marijuana to be prescribed to treat opioid addiction. Doctors and other medical professionals opposed the proposal, citing a lack of scientific evidence that it is effective.

Samantha Edwards, spokeswoman for the DHHS, confirmed the department’s denial of Julia’s petition. Edwards said the agency would let the documents it sent to Julia represent the department’s position. Julia provided the documents to the Portland Press Herald.

“It should be clearly understood that this decision was reached after careful consideration of the petition and information provided by the petitioner; other medical research, written and oral testimony submitted at the public hearing held on April 19, 2016, and consultation with two licensed Maine physicians,” Mayhew said in her letter dated July 8.

Those physicians, Christopher Pezzullo, the state health officer, and Siiri Bennett, the state epidemiologist, are members of the Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee.


In a letter to Mayhew dated July 1, Pezzullo and Bennett concede that ongoing human trials offer some hope of treating opioid addictions, but they recommended against allowing it now.

“While the animal and case studies and individual testimonies presented are compelling and point toward possible future approaches to the treatment of opioid addiction, studies in humans that support marijuana use for treatment of opioid addiction have not yet been published,” Pezzullo and Bennett said.

“Given the lack of rigorous human studies on the use of marijuana for the treatment of opioid addiction (only one clinical trial has been completed) and the lack of any safety or efficacy data, the Committee can not conclude that the use of medical marijuana for treatment of opioid addiction is safe,” the physicians added.

“The decision sucks, but at the end of the day it just gives me more firepower to fight the fight,” Julia said Monday. “We’re going to keep fighting. I am not going away.”

Julia said he will spend the rest of the summer trying to find legislative sponsors for a bill that would reflect his petition’s objectives. His bill would be presented to the full Legislature for consideration when it convenes in January. If the bill becomes law, Maine would be the first state to allow medical marijuana treatment for addiction to opioids and other drugs, Julia said.

Julia said his decision to add the chemical synthesis clause to his petition drew opposition from the pharmaceutical industry because it would have covered prescription sedatives such as Klonopin and Xanax.


“This (petition) was lobbied hard by the pharmaceutical companies,” Julia said. Currently, methadone or Suboxone are prescribed for opioid addiction.

Maine is in the midst of an opioid addiction crisis. The number of people seeking treatment for opioid addiction increased from 1,115 in 2010 to 3,463 in 2014. In 2015, 272 people died from drug overdoses in Maine, the highest number on record and a 31 percent increase over the previous year.

Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, and Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, said that by denying Julia’s petition, the DHHS missed an opportunity to help addicted Mainers.

Russell, who is serving her last term in the Legislature, has supported efforts to legalize recreational marijuana use and said she supported the petition.

“We are in the middle of a heroin addiction crisis,” Russell said. “We should be doing everything in our power to help these people.

“I understand the state is being cautious, but now is not the time for caution,” she continued. “There is a marked lack of courage in Augusta at a time when we need it the most.”


Brakey, who serves as chairman of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, said he will sponsor Julia’s legislation if asked to.

“It is certainly worthy of consideration,” Brakey said. “It’s something we should have a discussion about.”

Brakey said he has heard anecdotally that marijuana can help lessen the painful effects of heroin withdrawal.

“Why not allow an individual the right to choose. They’re not hurting anyone else,” he said. “If it’s not costing us any taxpayer money, then why should government stand in the way?”

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