Lawmakers in Maine voted on Monday to overturn Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill expanding the state’s medical marijuana program. The state House of Representatives voted 119-23 to override the governor’s veto of the bill, known as L.D. 1539. The vote in the Maine Senate was 25-8. Both houses voted on the question “Shall this Bill become a law notwithstanding the objections of the Governor?”
When it becomes law within 90 days of the end of the current legislative session, L.D. 1539 will greatly expand access to medical marijuana. The bill eliminates the specific list of medical conditions that qualify a patient for the use of medicinal cannabis. Instead, physicians will be able to recommend medical marijuana for any patient they believe will benefit.
The new law will also allow the issuance of permits for six more medical cannabis dispensaries and adds manufacturing and processing facilities to the program. It also authorizes the expansion of caregivers’ businesses while subjecting them to tighter state and local control.
Lawmakers and Cannabis Industry Celebrate Override
Republican Rep. Deborah Sanderson, the bill’s sponsor, told High Times that overriding the veto was the right thing to do. She noted that the legislature had made a deliberate and thorough review of existing law.
“I’m very pleased that it was overridden,” Sanderson said. “The Health and Human Services Committee took a very comprehensive look at Maine’s medical marijuana laws. We started right at the very beginning and went through the entire law. We took a look at what had been happening over the last eight years with it—where it needed to be tightened up, where it needed to be improved and tweaked for better patient access.”
Sanderson explained that L.D. 1539 lifts some restrictions on caregivers, making it easier for sick people to obtain their medicine of choice.
“It doesn’t limit caregivers to a number of patients anymore. So that provides greater choice and greater options for patients to be able to access cannabis as a medicine,” she said.
The override of the governor’s veto also pleased Maine’s cannabis industry. Amanda Melnick, a consultant representing caregivers, praised the legislature’s action.
“I’m thrilled,” said Melnick. “Seeing the House vote unanimously for a bill you believe in is an amazing feeling. Maine’s medical cannabis program has always been unique and it deserves to be protected. These bills create the structure that Maine’s patients, caregivers, dispensaries, and medical professionals deserve.”
The legislature passed L.D. 1539 in late June. Ten days later on July 6, Lepage vetoed the bill. The governor released a letter explaining that he was opposed, among other things, to retail shops for caregivers and cannabis extraction, which he characterized as dangerous.
LePage has allies in his desire to continue the prohibition of cannabis. Scott Gagnon, the director of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine, characterized on Twitter the medicinal use of cannabis as scientifically unsubstantiated.
“Seriously medical marijuana activists, just drop the charade of pretending there is a shred of science backing this “medicine”-via-pot shops model,” he wrote. “I mean that’s why you want to remove the condition list because you know it’s completely bogus.”
But Rep. Sanderson believes L.D. 1539 makes the states medical marijuana program even better than it was.
“Maine has had the reputation of having the best medical marijuana statute in the nation and people have looked to us as a model in what we can do to ensure patient access and that folks who are ill and want to use an alternative medicine to standard pharmaceuticals are able to do so. This bill is a tremendous step forward in ensuring that continues.”