LD 887: A bill that really “ought not to pass."
By Mike Reynolds for Ability Maine
this year, the revisors office in the Maine Legislature was publishing
bills to be heard by this session of the legislature this year.
With over 1000 possible bills, bills are rolled out over several
weeks. This is the process that has been used for years. It is
difficult to keep on top of all the bills that affect a certain
population or interest, but usually people work with others to alert
people of bills, and there is a good search option on the site of the
bill that piqued my interest as a person with a disability who has
dealt with chronic pain was a bill, sponsored by Sen. Anne Haskell and
co-sponsored by several other legislators. It would add who
use medical cannabis to control pain and have registered with the
state, to the Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP). The problem is
that there is no such thing as a marijuana prescription; it is against
the law for any doctor to prescribe medical cannabis, but not against
the law for a doctor to write a recommendation to use cannabis.
Haskell, when reached earlier this year about the bill, stated that she
submitted the bill for the Maine Medical Association. She further
explained that the intent of the bill was to explained as a measure
that would allow more doctors to write recommendations for cannabis.
When I asked how that would affect in any way the fact that it was
usually hospitals that had policies that have effectively prohibited
doctors from writing recommendations, she basically just repeated that
it would allow more doctors to write more recommendations. When asked
why the current DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew, who formerly led the
Maine Hospital Association, could not send out a letter to MHA for a
change in policy, or when I discussed other very real privacy concerns,
Haskell listened intently, but didn’t waiver in support of her bill.
887 had a public hearing on April 25 and it was lackluster at best. Two
other bills dealing with medical marijuana as well as LD 887 were
combined into one hearing, and unlike most bills, where supporters,
opponents and those neither for or against the bills have clear times
set, there was no real structure and the main lobbyist for MMA, Dr.
Gordon Smith, was unable to attend that hearing.
PMP is an absolutely necessary service to prevent the horrific issue of
prescription drug abuse that is an epidemic in Maine. But the state
instituted a mandatory registry for marijuana users in clear violation
of voter intent in 2008, (which is being addressed in another bill,
which would make registration voluntary.) Additionally, only somewhere
around 40% of doctors currently use the PMP. According to the
Government Accounting Office nationally, “Prescription
drug monitoring programs may vary in ways such as what data must be
submitted and who has access to the information. For example, with
respect to access to prescription monitoring data, West Virginia allows
authorized agents of the state police and federal law enforcement
agencies to have access to prescription monitoring data. In contrast,
in Maine, access by law enforcement is more limited as law enforcement
officials can access prescription monitoring data only by grand jury subpoena for cases they are currently investigating.”
Without any national standard, and the very real fact that doctors in
Maine can refuse to treat a patient for any reason, including for
having a medical recommendation for Cannabis, it’s certainly not in the
state’s interest to add Cannabis recommendations to a monitoring
program for prescriptions whose focus is primarily on drugs that have a
high risk of abuse or addiction.
May 2nd a worksession was held, which was delayed and the testimony I
heard was incomplete. Dr. Gordon Smith, stated that a doctor needed to
verify if a patient has a medical marijuana recommendation as patients
could lie and not tell their doctor. That might be very true but many
people who have ongoing chronic pain issues should not be forced to be
on another database because of the possibility of “lying” to their
doctor. If anything, as it was testified at the public hearing, by Dr.
Dustin Sulak, Cannabis actually reduces the use of opiates. Alysia
Melnick, a lawyer for the MCLU, was adamant that the last thing
patients needed was to be on another list with their medical
information available. The DHHS subcommittee voted 7-5 “ought not to
pass” with even co-sponsors voting against the bill. Further votes may
be forthcoming, as the legislators who voted in the minority are
Senators who suggested they may bring it to the floor for a possible vote.