Morning Sentinel
Medical-pot law yields many inquiries
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Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel 12/09/2009

AUGUSTA -- Greenhouses in Maine are interested in diversifying their crops by growing medical marijuana, the deputy commissioner of state Department of Agriculture said Tuesday.

Ned Porter appeared before the medical marijuana task force to answer questions about his agency's role in implementing the new law passed by voters in November.

The law expands the number of conditions for which physicians can recommend the use of medical marijuana and allows nonprofit dispensaries to distribute the substance.

Porter and Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Brenda Harvey said they have been swamped with calls from people interested in taking advantage of the new system, either as growers or dispensary owners.

While Porter said "a steady flow of inquiries" has come from greenhouses and nurseries, the law as written does not envision growing operations separate from dispensaries. He offered to work with the task force if it would help established nurseries and greenhouses in Maine expand their opportunities.

Also, he said the department has concerns about ensuring that the marijuana sold across the state is high quality and that scales used to measure it are accurate.

"Baby lettuce sold in Maine will go to market with more hygiene standards than medical marijuana, and medical marijuana is sold to people with qualifying conditions," he said.

Those qualifying conditions include cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, Alzheimer's disease and other conditions that have not responded to ordinary medical measures for at least six months.

The issue of quality -- whether marijuana is held to organic standards or whether pesticides can be used -- will be important to patients, said Kandyce Powell, executive director of the Maine Hospice Council.

"Many of these patients have compromised immune systems," she said. "That's why quality is so important."

Voters in 1999 first approved the use of medical marijuana in Maine, but the law required patients to grow it themselves or appoint a caregiver to grow it for them. Supporters then brought forward a citizen initiative this year to allow nonprofit dispensaries to operate in Maine. When 59 percent of voters approved it on Nov. 3, Maine became the fifth state to permit medical marijuana dispensaries.

The 14-member task force will meet for the final time Tuesday, spent much of the meeting discussing how to protect the privacy of patients while giving law enforcement the information it needs to ensure people are following the law.

Susan Cover -- 620-7015