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Maine sheriff proposes using seized pot for medicinal purposes


May 12, 2000
Web posted at: 4:27 p.m. EDT (2027 GMT)

(CNN) -- Maine voters overwhelmingly approved a medical marijuana initiative last November, joining eight Western states with similar legislation. Now, the state is considering a proposal to give marijuana seized in police raids to people who need it for medicinal purposes -- an idea proposed by the sheriff of the state's largest county.

Some legislators fear federal government wrath if the new proposal creates what some suggest could become the most sophisticated legal distribution of marijuana anywhere.

So far, the only law enforcement official supporting the idea is Mark Dion, the sheriff of Cumberland County, and the man who proposed the give-away.

But Dion is not a man with a soft spot for pot. He said the idea of a marijuana give-away was unthinkable to him until Maine passed the medical marijuana provision last fall.

"The people of Maine voted that compassion outweighs prosecution, and have asked their agents to effect their will," Dion said.

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Dion realized that no one had more marijuana on hand at any given time than he did. Instead of incinerating the confiscated marijuana, he proposed distributing it to the patients who could use it -- aids and cancer sufferers, some of whom he had met personally who said it eased their pain.

"For me, this was an ethical decision about the nature of dignity and compassion and not simply a legal one," he said. "The law is about making sure we follow the rules; justice seeks the exceptions. And for me, supporting medicinal marijuana was a journey to that exception."

In the end, he said, the idea was inspired by people like Dr. Mike Lindy, a cancer survivor. Marijuana was the only thing that kept him going through six months of chemotherapy.

"I would take maybe two puffs in the morning and two puffs at night and that was all, not very much," said Lindy. "I rejected it at first, and then decided to try it, and it had tremendous results, tremendous results.

Dion's idea for the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency to begin handing out seized marijuana hasn't gone much past the idea stage -- mostly because of the criticism it has received from law enforcement officials.

"Law enforcement shouldn't be involved in the process of handing out any drug," said Roy McKinney, director of Maine's Drug Enforcement Agency. "That's not our job. That's not our business. Our business is to identify and arrest drug dealers."

Federal and state authorities raise another concern about any possible give-away: They say they are not sufficiently equipped to test seized marijuana to assure it's not laced with something dangerous.

"We don't know the process in which that marijuana was grown. We weren't there at the beginning stages," said McKinney. "We don't know whether or not the cultivator added some adulterants to it. We just can't subscribe to that."

Dion acknowledges assessing marijuana's purity is a problem. He said a task force on distributing the drug is now looking into the issue.

However, proponents of distribution face a paradox. While it is legal to smoke marijuana for medicinal purposes in Maine, it is still illegal to buy it. The state has yet to figure out how to distribute the drug to the ill.

"What I am doing to obtain it is illegal," said AIDS sufferer Robin Lambert. When asked where he gets his supply, he replies, "I get it from God -- he grows it for me."

Maine isn't the only state facing the "pot paradox." Only eight medicinal smokers nationwide are now receiving legal marijuana -- some 300 cigarettes in all, supplied weekly by the federal government.

"I think states have a right to carve out their sense of what drug control policy should be," Dion said.

Thirty-four state legislatures and the District of Columbia seem to agree, having passed laws recognizing marijuana's medicinal value. These laws seem unlikely to amount to much as long as no mechanism for distribution exists.

Medical marijuana rules criticized
November 30, 1999
Medical marijuana grower slapped with stiff sentence
August 7, 1999
Federal report reignites medical marijuana debate
March 17, 1999
Study casts doubt on marijuana's effectiveness as glaucoma treatment
November 13, 1998

NORML - Working to Reform Marijuana Laws
Patients Out of Time -- Cannabis as Medicine
Medical Marijuana Conference

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