Pot and Slots at the State House – Part I

This coming Monday, April 27th, there will be an onslaught of bills around marijuana and gambling.  Specifically, the Committee on Health and Human Services will see a full day of bills, many of which would further loosen Maine’s medical marijuana laws.  Meanwhile, over at the Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs, there is a full slate of bills that would further expand gambling in Maine.  So as the Board President of the Maine Council on Problem Gambling and the volunteer Director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine, I’m really wishing I had a cloning device right about now.

In the interest of not muddying the waters, I will be publishing two blog posts on these bills. Today I will focus on the medical marijuana bills.  Tomorrow’s blog post will focus on the gambling bills.

The two most notable bills of the many medical marijuana bills before Health and Human Services are LD 5 and LD 23.  LD 5 would eliminate the patient limits for medical marijuana caregiversLD 23 would eliminate the list of allowable conditions for certification into the medical marijuana program.  Call me cynical, but together these bills essentially represent backdoor legalization of marijuana.  Both of these bills are being sponsored by Representative Diane Russell of Portland.  As of yet, there are no co-sponsors listed on either of these bills.  Think about it, the 1500-2000 caregivers across Maine could see as many patients as they want, with patients being able to be certified for anything as long as they find a doctor to sign the paperwork.  Why does this kind of set-up sound so familiar?  Do we really want to be the Florida of medical marijuana?

To be clear, I fully understand that many patients and physicians utilize the medical marijuana program legitimately.  But as with the case of the pill mills in Florida, we know that the system would be gamed tremendously.  There would be no regulations or controls in place to prevent medical marijuana from being recommended for conditions for which marijuana would actually cause more harm.  Of course, we already have the issue of some allowable conditions, such as PTSD, where the science indicates it doesn’t treat symptoms but can make them worse.

This kind of system for medical marijuana would be more prone to doctor shopping than it already is.  This runs contrary to the steps we have been taking to try to get our arms around the opiate addiction epidemic in Maine.  With programs like the Prescription Monitoring Program and Diversion Alert, we are setting up more checks and balances to minimize doctor shopping while also providing an opportunity to provide better care for patients who may not be doctor shopping, but are on a regimen of medicines that on balance are doing more harm than good.    We are moving in the opposite direction with our medical marijuana policies in the name of making the system more profitable for growers and certifying physicians.

These issues speak loudly to the pitfalls of medicine through polls and politics rather than science.  Perhaps it’s time we take a step back and let science take over this process and get the politicians out of medicine.

Check back tomorrow for Part Two!

Scott M. Gagnon, MPP, PS-C

About Scott M. Gagnon, MPP, PS-C

Scott M. Gagnon, MPP, PS-C is a Certified Prevention Specialist and is the Director of Operations at AdCare Educational Institute of Maine, Inc. He currently serves on the Maine Substance Abuse Services Commission as well as the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, Center for Substance Abuse Prevention National Advisory Council. Scott volunteers as the Chair of the marijuana policy education and advocacy group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine and is the current Board President of the Maine Council on Problem Gambling. Scott also serves as a Co-chair of the Prevention & Harm Reduction task force of the Maine Opiate Collaborative, the effort convened by U.S. Attorney Thomas E Delahanty, II to address Maine's growing opiate and addiction crisis. Scott is the recipient of the 2015 Maine Public Health Association's Ruth S. Shaper Memorial Award and 2015 Healthy Androscoggin Will Bartlett Award and is also the 2013 recipient of the Maine Alliance to Prevent Substance Abuse Prevention Award.