“It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” –Yogi Berra
From a signature-fueled fight over signatures, to a legislative committee seeking to resolve a an issue that science has yet to settle, to an assistant attorney general wasting taxpayer monies in an epically shameful battle against the seriously ill, it’s been an interesting several days for medical and adult-use cannabis advocates in Maine and New England.
We’ll start with the stunning news that the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol (CRMLA) did not submit enough valid signatures to qualify their adult-use legalization initiative for the November ballot.
The campaign indicated that it will appeal the decision, and it has 10 days to do so. Their appeal hinges on the signature, not of a petitioner, but of a notary public, whose John/Jane Hancock apparently did not match the one on file with the state.
If CRMLA’s appeal succeeds, they gain 17,000+ signatures back and the issue will appear on the ballot. If the appeal does not succeed, advocates have some significant choices to make.
A new initiative drive could put the issue on the ballot in one of the off-years between now and 2020. 2018 would be the best bet, as it will be a gubernatorial election year. And given the current status of political theatre in Maine, we can expect solid turnout for that voting cycle.
Another option would be to once again attempt legalization via our legislature. Given past performance, this could be a tough slog—legislators have thus far shown little appetite to move on this issue, and it’s an open question whether Governor LePage would veto such a bill if it survived the gauntlet and arrived on his desk.
However, Vermont’s legislature and Governor might well show us the way this year. And much would depend on the balance of power, and the new faces under the dome, at the beginning of Maine’s 128th Legislature next fall.
Speaking of legislators, the Joint Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety held a public hearing Wednesday on a bill to establish OUI standards for blood-THC content. Despite less than 24 hours’ notice, turnout was strong, with two overflow rooms. And testimony ran strongly against the proposal, LD 1628.
I was a member of the workgroup convened to make recommendations to the legislature about this bill, and agreed with the minority report to the Committee. I have written about this elsewhere, but a quick review:
Many medical consumers will consistently have elevated blood-THC content, and will be able to function without demonstrating impairment, even at levels over 5 ng/mL. One study reviewed by the workgroup indicated that a level of 13 ng/mL was required to produce impairment on par with a 0.08% blood alcohol content.
In 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released results of the “largest… most precisely controlled study of its kind” which measured the risk associated with marijuana at the levels found among drivers in a large community. The study found no statistically significant increase in crash risk with THC onboard, when other variables were accounted for.
Also, NHTSA’s annual Roadside Survey for 2013-2014 concludes with the following statement: “At the current time, specific drug concentration levels cannot be reliably equated with a specific degree of driver impairment.” (Links to the PDF of each NHTSA study are available here.)
Even Marilyn Huestis, former head of the Chemistry and Drug Metabolism Section at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, admits that “it’s almost impossible to come up with one number” that adequately indicates cannabis impairment.
We have created numerical impairment standards for no drug other than alcohol. Despite the devastating opioid epidemic in our state, we hear no calls for special, scientifically-unproven blood level standards for heroin or its dangerous cousins like oxycodone.
In the absence of good science to support any specific benchmark blood-THC level which reliably indicates impairment, LD 1628 is the legislative equivalent of tossing a dart at a bullseye. In a gale force wind. While blindfolded.
With adult-use legalization potentially off the table, the winds have died down. The Committee should address this issue, but at its leisure and with a full consideration of the relevant facts. Maine citizens deserve better.
New Hampshire’s citizens also deserve better than they are getting at the hands of Assistant Attorney General Frank Fredericks. You may recall Linda Horan, the longtime labor organizer and activist who died of lung cancer on February 1 this year. In her last battle, Linda successfully sued New Hampshire, forcing the state to begin issuing medical cannabis ID cards before their dispensaries open later this spring.
Thanks to Linda Horan, hundreds of New Hampshire patients have legal protection to obtain medical cannabis in states like Maine which offer reciprocity. For those who cannot travel and are still forced into the illicit market, they have at least some legal protection for possessing medical cannabis.
But although Linda is gone, her battle lingers on.
Fredericks has filed suit in an effort to vacate the decision in Linda’s case, threatening to kick 300 or so New Hampshire patients back into murky quasi-legality—unable to obtain medicine in places which would legally serve them, unprotected from law enforcement should they possess cannabis obtained from the illicit market.
Paul Twomey, Horan’s attorney, rightly describes the suit as “cruelly inequitable to the patients involved” and “border(ing) on stunning bureaucratic amorality.” It’s hard to disagree with him.
It remains to be seen how each of these three issues will play out. We’ll know the results of the CRMLA appeal within a month or so. The Criminal Justice committee will work LD 1628 this week. And there’s no telling when the Granite State suit will be settled or at what expense to taxpayers there. Perhaps before their dispensaries open. Perhaps even before Maine finally figures out how to successfully legalize and regulate this simple, yet somehow controversial, plant.