Maine takes pride in medical pot

Program seen as a model for other states

The Remedy Compassion Center identifies the varieties of medical marijuana with numbers and more commercial names such as one called “Bubblegum.” (Guy Taylor/The Washington Times)
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AUBURN, Maine — The first thing that jumps out at a visitor to the Remedy Compassion Center is how neat and clean it is. The walls are an immaculate blue from floor to ceiling, and the freshly carpeted main room is vast and almost empty.

The second thing one notices is the distinctly herby, faint odor of fresh-cut marijuana.

The center is, after all, a medical marijuana dispensary and, given the controversial nature of the treatment — or business — being conducted here, the impression of spotlessness is no accident.

“We wanted it to be a setting where it would be like going to a pharmacy,” said Tim Smale, who opened the facility after struggling for years to obtain marijuana legally as a remedy for his own recurring migraine headaches.

“There’s tens of thousands of people like me who don’t have a place to go for medicine, so it’s all about creating a place for patients to go and find a safe and trusted source.”

** FILE ** In this June 20, 2011, file photo, more than 100 patients have signed up to buy marijuana at the Remedy Compassion Center in Auburn, Maine, where Tim and Jenna Smale opened a dispensary. They sell medical marijuana to individuals registered with the state. (Guy Taylor/The Washington Times)

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** FILE ** In this June 20, 2011, file photo, more than ... more >

California more than a decade ago became the first state to legalize medical marijuana, which has long been hailed for its role in preventing nausea and vomiting in cancer patients and easing the symptoms of others suffering from a variety of diseases and ailments.

Since 16 states and the District have legalized the drug for anyone with a doctor’s note, the debate over marijuana’s gradual decriminalization is flowering on a national scale. Critics say the lax and haphazard laws in early states such as California have tainted the concept for Maine and other states seeking more orderly and regulated processes.

There has been a backlash of sorts. In Montana, where voters approved the concept in a 2004 referendum, medical marijuana advocates have gone to court against a law enacted by the Legislative Assembly designed to sharply restrict the number of people who qualify for the treatment and ban large growing operations in the state.

Mr. Smale’s dispensary is one of the first on the East Coast, putting Maine at the forefront of a slippery legal dispute within the Obama administration and with state lawmakers over how far the states can go before violating federal drug laws.

“Where do we go from here? It’s a good question,” said Jessica A. Smith, a Justice Department spokeswoman, who noted that marijuana remains illegal under federal law even as more states vote to legalize it as a medical palliative.

The issue has become particularly sticky since 2009 when U.S. Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden issued a memo reminding federal prosecutors that “no state can authorize violations of federal law.”

Although the memo advised U.S. attorneys not to target individuals acting in compliance “with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana,” news of the Ogden memo sent jolts of paranoia through states.

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an independent, declared an indefinite halt last month to his state’s plan to open three medical marijuana dispensaries.

His office had received a letter from Rhode Island U.S. Attorney Peter F. Nehronha asserting that “growing, distributing, and possessing marijuana in any capacity, other than as part of a federally authorized research program, is a violation of federal law regardless of state laws permitting such activities.”

Lawmakers in Maine, however, were unfazed by a similarly worded letter sent by Maine U.S. Attorney Thomas E. Delahanty.

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