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Maine's Medical Marijuana Law Creates New Challenges: Part 1

FruityBud

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It's been almost a year since Maine registered its first medical marijuana patient. In that time, the number of patients and caregivers has grown exponentially; so much so that administrators said applications are out-pacing the number of cards they can issue.

News 8's Meghan Torjussen examined some of the issues, problems and facts surrounding Maine's medical marijuana program.

Donald Christen was diagnosed with chronic pain and muscle spasms. He grows his own medicine instead of taking pills. Christen is one of about 1,000 patients across the state who have a medical marijuana card.

In order to qualify, patients must have certain debilitating medical conditions such as like HIV/AIDS, cancer and glaucoma.

Then, the patient needs the certification from a doctor. Next comes a registration with the state. There are three ways a patient can get their marijuana.

The first is through a dispensary. There will be eight shops across the state.

The second option is a caregiver. Someone who is registered with the state and certified to grow medical marijuana. Only six flowering plants per patient are allowed.

Third, a patient can choose to grow their own plants at home.

In the short time it's been up and running, the program has grown quickly, according to Catherine Cobb with the Department of Health and Human Services.

"Applications are just coming in day by day. Faster than we can process them, and we have a steady level of 200 applications in the queue," said Cobb.

But contrary to what the growing numbers would suggest, getting a medical marijuana card isn't easy. The biggest obstacle for some is finding a doctor who will write them a recommendation. Gordon Smith with the Maine Medical Association said there could be a few reasons for that. Fear of federal prosecution and the fact that the Food and Drug Administration hasn't approved marijuana for medicinal use in the United States.

"That's the end of the conversation for some doctors. They're comfortable relying on the Food and Drug Administration. They don't think it's particularly good public policy to have people voting what drugs are authorized in this country," Smith said.

Only about 3 percent of doctors statewide have given certifications. Dr. John Woytowitcz is one of them.

Woytowicz is the director of integrated medicine at the Maine Dartmouth Family Residency Program in Augusta. In his practice, he uses botanical medicines and counsels on lifestyle.

"There's a lot of science that's supportive of medical marijuana. I think it's safer than people think. But it's out of the box and the typical limitations that people are trained in are used," Woytowicz said.

The state keeps the names of doctors who recommend medical marijuana confidential. That's why patients like Christen rely on word of mouth from other medical marijuana users.

"The number one problem is the doctors. If you can't get the recommendation, you can't be a patient, so that's the problem," Christen said.

The only dispensary that's open right now is in Aroostook County.

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