AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill adding post-traumatic stress disorder as a qualifying condition for the prescription of medical marijuana quietly became law on Wednesday without Gov. Paul LePage’s signature.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Elizabeth Dickerson, D-Rockland, amends the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Act to add post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, inflammatory bowel disease and other illnesses to the list of conditions for which a physician may prescribe medical marijuana.
The new law takes effect late September.
Dickerson said Friday that she sponsored the bill at the request of a number of veterans, one of whom told her he would rather use medical marijuana than something such as Prozac.
Paul McCarrier, legislative liaison for Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, said the change will help veterans and patients in Maine access “their medicine of choice” and will help physicians and others gather data about how medical marijuana can help veterans with PTSD.
The original bill received “quite a bit of push-back” from the Maine Medical Association, McCarrier said, because it contained language that would have added treatment of opioid or other pharmaceutical dependence, as well as “any other medical condition or its treatment as determined by a physician.”
Gordon Smith of the Maine Medical Association said that language was just one aspect of the bill that made many MMA member physicians uncomfortable.
“We had quite a fight with a few legislators who were very bothered by [our opposition] and asked, ‘Don’t we trust the doctors?’” Smith said. “I said, ‘No, not all 4,000 of them, no. We really feel there would be a weak link that would be utilized to just support the recreational use of marijuana.”
Smith said MMA members who specialize in treatment of psychiatric conditions and addiction also objected to the idea that a doctor would prescribe marijuana to help a person with the treatment of addictions, “because many doctors believe marijuana leads to addiction.”
And while there was also resistance to even including PTSD on the list, Smith said, the MMA eventually agreed to allow that condition and a few others in exchange for pulling what they saw as more objectionable language.
Overall, Smith said, “we were satisfied with the final result.”
A similar measure was signed into law earlier this month in Oregon, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. Medical marijuana is currently allowed in the treatment of PTSD in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts and New Mexico.
Eighteen states and Washington, D.C., allow patients with qualifying conditions to use medical marijuana with recommendations from their physicians, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, and similar legislation awaits signatures by the governors of Illinois and New Hampshire.
“There is mounting evidence demonstrating the benefits of medical marijuana for individuals suffering from PTSD,” said David Boyer, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Maine lawmakers should be commended for taking action to ensure veterans and others living with PTSD are able to use medical marijuana to alleviate their symptoms and live healthy and productive lives. They deserve nothing less.”
Dickerson said that after the list of conditions to be added to the law was ironed out, the bill was well-received and faced little opposition.
“I think everybody was pretty positive about it,” she said. “Everybody wants to do whatever we can to help our veterans.”