Maine’s medical marijuana users can exhale.

The odds of their being prosecuted in U.S. District Court today aren’t any greater than they were before Monday’s high court ruling that trumped a state statute.

“I do not anticipate it will have any change on the work of this office,” U.S. Attorney Paula Silsby said Tuesday afternoon. The decision “doesn’t change anything for our purposes.”

That’s because federal law has been consistent in saying pot use – whether for medical purposes or as a recreational drug – is illegal. Mainers’ passage of a referendum in 1999 allowing the use of marijuana for some medical conditions didn’t change that, Silsby said.

Monday’s Supreme Court action didn’t strike down medical marijuana laws in 10 states, including Maine. Rather, it said federal prosecutors like Silsby could, if they choose, bring actions against people who claim their use of marijuana is medicinal and legal under state laws.

Silsby couldn’t recall a case in which her office had prosecuted a medical marijuana user. But that’s not to say it wouldn’t if, say, it was directed to make an example of someone.

“I’m not saying that it will happen,” she added, “or that it won’t happen.”

She noted, though, that the federal Drug Enforcement Agency typically targets hard drug trafficking kingpins rather than low-volume pot users.

Cumberland County Sheriff Mark Dion said the result of the ruling could be positive for those pot users because it might lead Congress to either legalize medical marijuana or reclassify the substance. Cocaine, he noted, has legitimate medical uses, and marijuana might too.

Dion, a Lewiston native, served on a state task force looking at ways of implementing Maine’s 1999 medical marijuana law. The act passed, Dion said, because the “people of Maine asked for a cease-fire in the war on drugs so we could act compassionately toward people with illnesses.”

The sheriff said that if the weed actually has medical uses, then it isn’t right to “make criminals of people simply for being ill.” He said he will encourage his congressional representatives to take a look at the issue.

But U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, won’t be sympathetic to his plea.

“Senator Collins does not support the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes,” noted her spokeswoman, Elissa Davidson.

“The Maine Medical Association, which speaks for the medical profession in Maine, has expressed opposition to medicinal marijuana,” Davidson said in explaining the senator’s reasoning. “In addition, the Office of National Drug Control Policy has stated that there is no convincing scientific evidence that marijuana offers benefits that a person cannot get from currently approved prescription drugs.

“She does not believe that the case for legalization has been made,” Davidson said of Collins.

Under Maine’s medical marijuana act, Dion said, a user must have a doctor’s letter stating that the patient’s use of marijuana will offer relief from symptoms of illness or from side effects resulting from treatments.

Those patients could then show the letter to law officers if they are questioned.

Because the court’s ruling dealt with federal authorities, Dion said he couldn’t anticipate its effect on how state and local authorities handle medical marijuana users.

“I’m waiting for guidance from the Attorney General’s Office,” he said.

Maine doesn’t register medical pot users so there’s no way of knowing who or how many people in Maine use it with a doctor’s approval. “We need a patient registry” for that reason, Dion said, but he doesn’t advocate that the registry list names of users, due to privacy issues.

As a result of Monday’s court ruling, Dion says he expects that “some people might decide to engage in civil disobedience” of the federal statutes.


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