ME: Forum stay positive on issue of marijuana, whether medical or not

ME: Forum stay positive on issue of marijuana, whether medical or not

morningsentinel / April 7 2011 / David Robins

FARMINGTON — About 50 people attended a forum on the legality of marijuana Monday at the University of Maine at Farmington.

The six panelists from the Maine House, law enforcement agencies and a drug legalization advocacy group touched on everything from medical marijuana laws to state’s rights.

Eric Friberg, who described himself as a medical marijuana advocate from South Portland, said he was surprised by the views of the panelists.
"It’s the first one-sided panel I’ve seen in favor of cannabis, usually it’s the opposite," said Friburg, 40.

While the panelists disagreed on some issues, they all showed support for Maine’s current medical marijuana law. Several called for further de-criminalizing the drug so it can be regulated and taxed.

Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington, said he supported recent bills to de-criminalize marijuana that have failed to get out of the committee in the Legislature.

He said he organized Monday night’s forum in Farmington because he believes something needed to change in the way Maine is fighting the war on drugs.

"The war is over, the question is, ‘how do we surrender without making it worse than it is,’" Harvell said.

Harvell admitted he tried marijuana in high school.

"I did inhale and I didn’t like it," he said.

Harvell said, however, it would be difficult for Maine to fight federal laws that still consider marijuana illegal. The federal government controls the "purse strings" and can make it tough for Maine to fight for legalization, he said.

"We’re not about to trade johnny’s weed for grandma’s Medicare," Harvell said.

Farmington Police Chief Jack Peck said his department doesn’t consider marijuana a "great priority."

The police department has handled an average of 22 marijuana possession cases a year, and most were dismissed or the person was fined between $100 to $300, according to Peck. There have been no convictions in the past five years for cultivating marijuana or trafficking, which involves selling the drug, he said.

He said he is against de-criminalizing opiates and other drugs because he has seen the effect on families and communities.

"I’ve cried with the families," Peck said of handling overdose deaths for heroin.

"I’ve never been to a marijuana overdose," he said.

Peck said other drugs lead to violence but marijuana users are typically not violent.

"I have never fought anybody who was stoned," Peck said.

"We should take a look at de-criminalizing marijuana," he said, referring to the state regulating and taxing the drug.

Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, said she co-sponsored the bills to de-criminalize marijuana. She said she has written another de-criminalization bill she hopes to present to the Legislature.

Russell said she wants to see marijuana regulated and taxed to generate revenues. She said her bill would allow people 21-years-old and above to buy, grow and store certain amounts of marijuana.

She said she wanted to take the drug away from the illegal trade that makes it more dangerous for users, and more accessible to young people.

Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, said she supports the medical marijuana bill that voters passed. She said she wants to enforce the law as people wanted it, which would mean changes to how the law is currently being enforced.

Caregivers supply marijuana to patients and both groups must register with the state Department of Health and Human Services, she said.

Voters passed a version of the law that has voluntary registration for patients and changes to the annual fees paid by caregivers and patients to register with the state, she said.

Sanderson said she does not support de-criminalizing marijuana or other drugs, but said politicians have a duty to uphold the will of voters who passed the medical marijuana law.

Medical marijuana caregiver Michael Danforth said he supported the views of the panelists. He said he has five patients he supplies with marijuana.
"I think we’ve got to change some things because they did tear apart what the people voted for," said Danforth, 42, of Farmington.

Maine Attorney General William J. Schneider and Peter Christ of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition were the other panelists Monday.