August 22, 2010

OUR OPINION: Calif. shows how pot dispensaries can work safely

You can learn a lot from other people’s mistakes, and a recent trip to California by reporter John Richardson showed that Maine has been a good student when it comes to finding out what works and what doesn’t in the field of medical marijuana.

In a series of articles that began Aug. 15 in the Maine Sunday Telegram, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel, Richardson showed how good planning and careful supervision allowed marijuana clinics to operate in a secure and responsible manner.

It was reassuring to find that a former general manager of what are considered to be some of the best-run clinics will head Northeast Patients Group in Maine, which will run clinics in Portland, Augusta or Waterville, Thomaston and Bangor. Their focus on security will be a key to the success of the expansion of medical marijuana in the state.

Maine voters legalized marijuana for people undergoing chemotherapy and other medical conditions in 1999, but the law made it difficult for patients to get the drug unless they were able to grow it themselves.

Last year, voters passed a law opening the door to dispensaries, where people with those conditions could buy the drug. Some of those businesses will begin later this year, and the question remains what impact they will have, besides serving patients who have a medical need.

The danger these facilities pose is that they could become a conduit for marijuana, still an illegal drug, to reach the black market. This is a realistic fear. We in Maine have seen an explosion in the abuse of prescription drugs and methadone, which were intended to address medical needs.

A secondary concern is whether these clinics, which have both marijuana and cash on site, will become a target for robberies.

How well the managers of these clinics control both of those concerns will determine if the will of the voters can be carried out without causing other problems that are just as bad as the one the clinics were created to solve.

Police in the northern California cities of Berkeley and Oakland say they are comfortable with the security at the clinics in their communities and consider them to be good neighbors.

We hope the same will be said of the dispensaries in Maine. If marijuana gets just to the people who need it, all this careful study will be worth it.

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