Maine medical marijuana veto overturned by lawmakers standing up to Governor

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State lawmakers in Maine overwhelmingly voted Monday to override Republican Governor Paul LePage’s veto of a bill that will allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients for any medical reason. 

The House voted 119-23 and the Senate 25-8 to overturn LePage’s veto with support from Democrats and Republicans.

The new legislation will also grant six new medical dispensary licenses, permit caregivers (those who grow and administer medical marijuana to private patients) to expand their business and allow local municipalities to enact further regulations, according to the Portland Press Herald.

Republican state Senator Eric Brakey, who helped write the new law as co-chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, told Newsweek by phone that he respectfully disagrees with his Republican governor when it comes to marijuana issues.

“I’ve personally seen so many people whose lives have been changed for the better through access to this medicine,” said Brakey, who added that there are three key components to the law. “More choice and freedom for patients, more flexibility for legal businesses and more overall integrity for the program with more local control.”

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The new law eliminates the qualifying conditions list that required patients to be diagnosed with certain illnesses, such as cancer, HIV or seizure disorders, before a doctor could issue a license.

The new provision allowing doctors to issue medical marijuana licenses to anyone they believe could benefit for any reason was the first of 11 “major deficiencies” LePage cited in his veto letter on Friday.

“[The law] eliminates all qualifying medical conditions from the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Program, allowing access, for any reason, at the suggestion of a medical provider,” LePage said.

This was not the first time state lawmakers fought back against the governor's attempts to stall marijuana laws.

The Maine Legislature overturned another one of LePage's vetoes in May concerning a bill that paved the way for recreational marijuana to be produced and sold. Voters approved a ballot measure in 2016 legalizing recreational use, but retail shops have yet to open because lawmakers must create regulations for the new market. 

Other parts of the new medical marijuana law include increasing the maximum number of patients that caregivers may treat from five to an unlimited number, increasing the number of dispensary licenses in the state from eight to 14 and giving local governments the power to regulate the industry further.  

“I think it’s a good leap forward for medical cannabis policy,” Brakey said. “Hopefully, we will continue to be a role model for the rest of the country, just as we have been.”

Maine first approved medical marijuana by a ballot initiative in 1999.

A total of 31 states and the District of Columbia have some sort of medical marijuana program, while only nine states have legalized recreational marijuana.

BI Graphics_legal marijuana map

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