Bill would expand doctors' ability to prescribe marijuana

AUGUSTA — A bill expected to be submitted in the coming legislative session would eliminate the categories for which medical marijuana can be prescribed. It also would allow any physician to write a prescription for the plant, which advocates say has broad medicinal applications, rather than limiting it to a select few who are licensed.

Rep . Mark Dion, D-Portland, a former Cumberland County sheriff, will submit the bill in January.

“I’m trying to restore physician autonomy,” he said Friday. “Nowhere else does the state intrude into the physician-patient relationship.” Dion said doctors are able to prescribe a host of other medicines without having to ensure that they correspond with a specific ailment.

The Maine Medical Association is prepared to oppose the bill, according to Gordon Smith, the organization’s executive vice president. If the categories are removed, Smith argued, then the medical marijuana program would become no more than a “front” for legalized pot.

Paul McCarrier, director of the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, said the restrictions prevent effective use of the substance. The categories for which the drug is permitted are narrow, including chronic pain and symptoms associated with AIDS. As a result, he said, “People have to lie to their doctors.”

For Ryan Begin, 32, of Montville the proposed law has personal consequences.

A veteran of two tours of duty in Iraq, where an improvised explosive device “blew off my elbow,” as he describes it, he suffers from chronic pain, PTSD and other health issues. Through the Veterans Administration, he had been prescribed painkillers such as morphine and sleep aids, which led to addiction, he said.

He overdosed on Valium that had been prescribed to him by a doctor.

“I went on suboxone to get off the opioids,” Begin said. The drugs led to him developing diverticulitis, and when he returned to the Togus VA Center, physicians wanted to put him back on pills.

“This is wrong,” Begin said. “We’re forcing people to take synthetics.”

Instead, he turned to marijuana.

“It just relaxes me,” he said. When a panic attack begins, which he attributes to PTSD, he rolls a joint. “It just gives you time to breathe,” he said.

Begin believes many veterans who are returning to society from combat zones have or will experience the rollercoaster of drugs that he experienced. Marijuana is, in his view, an inexpensive, safe, mild, nonaddictive alternative that would help his fellow veterans.

“Veterans have been using marijuana for treatment since Vietnam,” he said.

Last year, Dion spoke in favor of a similar bill offered by Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea.

“It’s a real conservative idea,” Dion said. “I want to remove the government from the examining room.”

He believes doctors should have the full discretion to prescribe marijuana just as they would antibiotics or any other medication.

“It’s not about marijuana,” Dion said, but rather about the state not looking over a physician’s shoulder.

Alysia Melnick of the ACLU of Maine said her organization is supporting Dion’s proposal to protect patient access to the best appropriate treatment.

“It’s also an issue of individual autonomy,” she said, part of the private relationship between doctor and patient, so “doctors have the same discretion that they would have for any other drugs.”

“It makes no sense to us that the state should have any say in what a doctor does in their office,” she said.

Melnick finds it ironic that current laws favor physicians prescribing painkillers for a host of complaints even as the high public cost of addiction to those drugs, and the evidence that they leak out into the black market, is clear.

“We know more and more about the benefits of marijuana as medicine,” she said. “I hope the public perception catches up with the facts.”

But Smith of the Maine Medical Association, which opposed Sanderson’s bill, disagrees with that assertion. Marijuana is not an FDA-approved drug, he notes.

“It’s an alternative track” for treatment, he said, and its use should be carefully controlled.

“Let’s see how the current law goes before we greatly expand it,” Smith said.

And he rejects the argument that physicians have broad discretion to choose medicine for their patients without linking those decisions to a checklist of ailments.

“Some might get into serious difficulty if their patients started pressuring them [for medical marijuana] for anxiety and depression,” conditions which are hard to diagnose, he said.

“Marijuana has its place, particularly for nausea and vomiting,” Smith said. But removing categories for which the substance is approved “is a huge change.”

The proposal is in concept form only, Dion said. Its text would be drafted sometime after the Legislature begins work next month.

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Steve  Dosh's picture

Bill would expand doctors' ability to prescribe marijuana

BDN and LSJ readers Sunday night Advent
" Legalize it . Don't criticize it . " - Peter Tosh 1 9 7 6
It's geting a bit like the 55 mph law : totally ignored and derided by the public and that's bad . We desire laws that people agree with and abide by . Posession of ' paka'lo'lo ' is a felony ( Schedule II narcotic ) here in Hawai'i unlike your state where i believe it is only a misdemeanor . i do not smoke and can not nor would not ever prescribe it . i figure it is as bad or worse than tobacco and gambling , regulated industries
i also figure it is as bad or worse than alcohol yet , given the choice , i'd rather see some stoner driving toward me late Saturday night than a drunk or some one high on pills , ice , or sleep deprived
Prohibition has never worked any where at any time . Even Jimmy Carter , while campaigning in Maine , said he was going to legalize it but , l o l , politicians will say what they can to be elected
Peopel with addictive behavior personality disorders need to be treated
Maybe Mary Jane , pot , grass , weed , ganja , chronic & 4:20 is a quick , cheap , and effective , solution ?
i simply do not know . Ask those who use it . .
h t h , /s , Steve *<;-Q~

FRANK EARLEY's picture

I have huge respect for the medical community,but....

I totally agree with Mr. Dion. I disagree to an extent with Mr. Smith due to the complexities of treating pain. I honestly don't think a lot of people even doctors in some cases fully understand "Chronic Pain". Unless you live it, experience it and deal with it day in and day out, you don't understand it. I've been living with chronic pain for the better part of ten years now. I have a disease that right now at least, is incurable. I'm going to have this debilitating pain the rest of my life. I lost my ability to work seven years ago, I can't even travel to visit relatives out of state anymore. This is a lot to deal with when your just 54 years old. Finding a good doctor to work with you is very difficult. Many doctors think they have all the answers. Every single situation is different, I'm sure my illness is a lot different from Mr. Dion's, even though we both suffer debilitating pain, how we learn to deal with the pain will be totally different. Its being able to talk honestly with your doctor, through trial and error, find out what works best, and most important of all, allow every option. Give all doctors the ability to treat chronic pain however best works for the patient, not what society thinks is right. Trust me, what relieves the pain of a broken leg, won't touch the pain of "Nerve Damage". What works now may not work six months from now. I'm going to be dependent on many medications in my lifetime, it's part of the disease. There are so many things both the public and some in the Medical community need to learn about pain, by trying to control pain, were not out to enjoy drugs. we're just trying to find that right combination that gives the most relief. Everyone's relief is going to be different , but our goals are the same. COMFORT... give us the chance.....

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