Maine resident Dair Gillespie, 77 suffers from late-stage Alzheimer’s disease. She spends her days in bed, unable to get up for simple tasks and only able to utter a few words once in awhile. Her care is overseen at home by Ann Leffler, the partner she’s known since 1970. In addition to the memory loss and confusion that Alzheimer’s causes, Gillespie experienced anxiety, hallucinations, aggression, insomnia and incontinence. The effects of a previous stroke and a broken hip still linger and contribute to her suffering.
Three years ago, after Gillespie was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, she experienced what can be referred to as vascular dementia, a series of mini-strokes that can occur in Alzheimer’s patients as well as patients with non-specific dementia. Leffler believes the medication given to Gillespie may have contributed to her deteriorating health. “Dair was taking all the usual, very heavy-duty drugs for Alzheimer’s, and she was taking other drugs for the side effects of those drugs,” said Leffler. “She was starting to have psychotic meltdowns. Things were getting very difficult.”
About a year ago, Leffler tried a cannabis regimen after consulting a hospice nurse. Today, she is off almost all of the Alzheimer’s medication and simply administers cannabis and over the counter pain medication to Gillespie.
“On cannabis, she’s very, very different,” Leffler said. “She is much less anxious, much less fearful. She’s much more ‘there’ — she’ll laugh, she’ll smile, sometimes she’ll say a word or two that can be understood.”
Dair Gillespie, 77, at her home in Orono, where she is being cared by her spouse. (Gabor Degre | BDN photo)
Gillespie is one of a few patients in Maine who is using cannabis to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. 30 states have medical marijuana programs, and each one varies in terms of qualifying conditions, potency of products, cost and availability. While there is very little research into the effectiveness of cannabis on Alzheimer’s, cannabis can treat many of the symptoms that accompany the disease, like anxiety and pain. Even though medical marijuana has improved Gillespie’s life far more than prescription drugs, it is still illegal and therefore not covered by Medicare or Medicaid, and no insurance program will cover the cost.
Doctors who oversee patients at the end of their lives are beginning to prioritize quality of life rather than waiting for definitive medical marijuana research.
“Comfort becomes more important than function,” said Dr. Clifford Singer, a geriatric psychiatrist in Bangor. “I think that at that stage you try everything to help stop the suffering.”
Dr. James Van Kirk is the Director of Supportive Care at Eastern Maine Medical Center, and is president of the board of the Maine Hospice Council. He said that many physicians are simply referring patients interested in medical marijuana to others who can recommend it, and he believes it’s already being used in hospice environments. “I’ve been recommending it ever since it became medically available,” he said. But patients are still hesitant to try a cannabis treatment, especially older patients who have been raised under a cloud of anti-marijuana propaganda.
Gillespie’s experience may contribute current research being done in Maine. The University of New England is working with The Wellness Connection, a group of four medical marijuana dispensaries, to study how cannabis affects chronic illnesses, including Alzheimer’s. Leffler has already connected with the university and looks forward to sharing her experience. Gillespie and Leffler met at the University of California at Berkeley as sociology students in the graduate program, so Gillespie knows the importance of solid, peer-reviewed research and knows that her partner would feel the same.
“If she were cognizant, she would be very proud to share her story,” Leffler said.
What would you do if you lived in a state where there is a waiting period between legalized marijuana use and legalized marijuana sales? In Maine, there is now legalized personal possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis and it’s legal to consume in private, but it is still technically possible to get arrested for buying it on the black market. In fact, Maine just legalized recreational marijuana last November. The law went into effect in January 2017.
The Problem for Business Owners is Real
If a state’s voters are going to pave the way for the cannabis industry, then people will step forward to make a profit. There will have to be legalized buying and selling of cannabis and cannabis-related products, but this will take time. Call it the American entrepreneurial at work. Some business owners are getting creative as they gear up for cannabis sales, such as marketing foods infused with the plant’s components. One Maine business owner, Jack Sargent, has plans to open a catering business and to launch a cannabis-infused bakery. However, he must be mindful of the lack of state licensing laws. He can only give away his products for now, which can help him to create product awareness among future clientele but will not earn him a real living.
‘Drumming up attention at this month’s First Friday Art Walk in Portland, Jack Sargent operates The Cannabis Shack, a Biddeford-based company that makes marijuana-infused edibles. He gets around current laws against selling pot by giving away products and seeking only donations. “I’m not the only one doing it,” he said.’ (Portland Press Herald photo by Brianna Soukup)
Looking for a Loophole
It stands to reason that cannabis users in Maine will create a demand for the product that outpaces the industry’s legal development. In America, the entrepreneurial mindset ensures that business owners find ways to work around the law. A new twist has become making gifts of cannabis products to customers and delivering them within Maine. While a consumer may pay for delivery of a product in Maine, it’s already legal to grow cannabis in your backyard. Until the state writes its licensing laws, businesses cannot legally sell cannabis products. Think of this as a temporary obstacle for the industry’s businesses to overcome.
Where is the Limbo?
Sargent is something of a groundbreaker by working with this loophole in the law. He doesn’t break the law by charging for delivery of cannabis gifts. A general rule of thumb is that the more expensive the strain of cannabis in a product, the higher its delivery fee will be. Through the gifting of these kinds of products, Maine consumers can begin to use them without worrying about breaking the law.
The Law Affects Adults
Who is affected by Maine’s new cannabis law? It is now legal for adults age 21 and over to consume cannabis. However, recreational users and people who would grow and distribute this flowering plant must use caution. Marijuana use becomes legal for the first time in Maine in the wake of pioneer legislation in states like Colorado.
The Gray Area
Law enforcement officials and people working in cannabis-related businesses are aware of the gray area that now exists in Maine law. It’s not really a black market so much as a period of waiting for further laws and regulations to define the industry. When a business owner like Sargent tests the letter of the law by working around it, he makes way for future businesses to do the same.
Maine differs from other states like Florida that have adopted medical marijuana legislation, which provides for limited use of the cannabis plant. Florida businesses are waiting on rules for how they can grow and distribute the plant for medical purposes, but only to consumers who meet certain health requirements. Maine’s law will eventually evolve to widen the opportunities for adult cannabis use. Consumers should recognize that Sargent is not the only business owner gifting cannabis products in Maine. It’s reportedly easy to go on Craig’s List and find other companies that give away similar products if you’re willing to pay a delivery fee.
Congratulations! Your state just legalized cannabis. Now what?
Cannabis legalization is slowly but surely coming to fruition in the US. In 2016 alone, a handful of states, including Arkansas, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, eased restrictions surrounding the selling and medicinal consumption of the plant. Getting this far is a huge accomplishment and now that cannabis is legal, it will be treated like other regulated substances and medicines on the market today.
Below are three things you can expect to happen, now that cannabis is legal in your state.
No Laws, No Service
If you thought passing laws was the hard part, think again. Previously, since legal cannabis regulations were non-existent, the first challenge for states that just legalized the herb is to create guidelines for the industry, which must be completed within a specific timeframe. Taking Florida as an example, the state is in the process of finalizing cannabis regulations. Lawmakers are still deciding how patients will be assessed to qualify for a medical marijuana card. So at the moment, medical dispensaries aren’t popping up around the area – not yet. Before that can start happening, licensing regulations must be setup for businesses to follow and legitimize their establishment.
Adhering to Consumption Guidelines
Patients interested in consuming cannabis, in a state that offers it legally, will be required to adhere to strict consumption guidelines. Lighting up in public, next to a school or on federal property is a big no-no and will likely get you in trouble. Furthermore, there are age restrictions for people partaking in the plant, as well as for businesses selling to customers. For instance, in Colorado, where cannabis is legal on a recreational level, individuals must be over the age of 21 to hold or use herb purchased in a retail environment.
It is important to educate yourself about these guidelines as they are implemented, because each state abides by a unique set of laws for cannabis consumption. If you cross state borders often for work or weekend trips, it is crucial to understand how guidelines differ on the other side. In some cases, you may find that neighboring states still view cannabis as an illegal substance (e.g., crossing over from Florida to Alabama, where medical consumption of psychoactive cannabis products is prohibited).
Possession and Limitations
How much you can buy and hold is also closely regulated under legal cannabis. Again, this varies greatly from state-to-state. On the far end of the spectrum, Oregon-based residents are able to possess up to 24 ounces of medical cannabis and up to six mature plants (18 immature seedlings). While in Montana, registered medical cardholders may legally hold up to an (one) ounce of cannabis and 12 seedlings.
“Now that weed is legal, it’s also taxed and regulated; unfortunately though, many tourists (and Nevadans) don’t have any idea what those regulations look like. It’s incredibly important that anyone who plans to participate in the consumption of marijuana knows the rules in order to stay safe and legal,” said Cassidy Leslie from the University of Nevada Reno.
After acquiring enough votes to qualify for November’s ballot, Maine voters will have the chance to legalize cannabis this fall.
The legalization referendum received more than the necessary 61,123 signatures to qualify for November’s ballot. Until the bill’s proponents submitted more signatures yesterday, the referendum’s fate was in serious doubt since 26,000 signatures had been previously denied “because of a discrepancy.”
Maine’s bill would legalize possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis and set up a regulated, retail marijuana system much like Colorado’s. With the additional possibility of legalization in states like Rhode Island and Massachusetts this fall, the East Coast might soon have its first three legal states in one full swoop.
Maine’s effort to legalize marijuana is now continuing forward.
Superior Court judge Justice Michaela Murphy has determined that state officials from the office of Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap improperly invalidated hundreds of thousands of signatures due to a handwriting discrepancy of a notary. Dunlap’s office has been ordered to go back and review the signatures again.
David Boyer, manager for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, said,
“We’re confident voters will be able to vote on this, on taxed marijuana. We’re pretty confident. We were confident when we submitted. We were confident when we submitted our appeal. We know they are good signatures.”
Justice Murphy wrote in her 26-page ruling,“While the state of Maine has a compelling interest to ensure that all petitions submitted for consideration in a direct initiative are valid, requiring a notary’s signature to appear identically on every petition is unreasonable and abridges the constitutional right to initiative. The state has presented no evidence, and the court is aware of none, correlating the variability of a notary’s signature with incidences of fraud in administering the circulator’s oath.”
Justice Murphy has placed the burden of proof on Dunlap’s office, explaining that a handwriting discrepancy does not equal fraud.
“The secretary of state did not determine that the notaries whose signatures varied from the signatures on their commissions did not properly administer the circulators’ oath. Instead, he claims he was unable to determine whether the notary signatures belonged to those notaries,”
From the beginning, the Secretary of State’s move to invalidate signatures was a fumbled message, with Spokeswoman Kristen Muszynski suggesting their office had made contact with the notary in question, followed by a contradicting statement by Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap indicating they had not.
Scott Gagnon, director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine, opposes cannabis legalization and is disappointed in the ruling. “It will open the door to elections fraud in Maine. We will be watching closely how this unfolds as it goes back to the secretary of state,” Gagnon said in a statement. “We will certainly be examining all options and strategies for the weeks and months ahead, and we will be prepared should this indeed find its way to the ballot in November.”
For now, David Boyer is looking forward to progress. “We’re definitely excited,” he said. “We’ve been in limbo for the last month.”