MCLU Applauds Governor, Legislature for Protecting Privacy of Medical Marijuana Patients

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
June 24, 2011 5:25 pm

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Augusta – This morning, Governor Paul LePage signed LD 1296, “An Act to Amend the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Act To Protect Patient Privacy,” into law.

LD 1296, primarily drafted by the Maine Civil Liberties Union, reforms Maine’s medical marijuana law to protect patient privacy, ensure access to medical marijuana, and clarify protections for patients from law enforcement action.

The bill received unanimous approval in the Health and Human Services Committee and passed through the House and the Senate without debate.

“The widespread, bi-partisan support for LD 1296 reflects Maine’s history of compassionate care for patients and respect for personal privacy,” said Alysia Melnick, MCLU Public Policy Counsel. “Seriously ill patients shouldn’t have to place their highly sensitive personal medical information in a statewide database in order to access the care they need.”

The safety and efficacy of marijuana in treating a range of serious illnesses and associated conditions, including cancer, HIV/AIDS and multiple sclerosis is widely documented, even in comparison to known, federally approved pharmaceutical treatments. Many of the patients who spoke at the bill’s public hearing testified that using marijuana allowed them to drastically reduce or eliminate other medications, including narcotics and opioids that carry high risk of addiction and other negative side effects. These voices made an impact on legislators on the Committee, including the sponsor, Representative Deborah Sanderson, likely familiar with Maine’s grave problems related to prescription drug abuse.

“Researching this program for the last 7 months has been quite an education,” said Representative Deborah Sanderson (R-Chelsea), primary sponsor of the bill. “I’ve read countless case studies on the benefits of marijuana for many conditions. What has been the most informative and moving however, has been speaking to the patients themselves. Folks who suffer chronic debilitating pain and have used opiates, often for months, are seeing better pain management results without the highly addictive results that opiates often have.”

The bill makes registration optional for patients and some caregivers and eliminates the requirement that patients disclose their specific medical condition to the state. The law also mandates more effective processes for adding approved medical conditions, improves the procedure for minor patient access and prevents municipalities from instituting regulations more restrictive than State Law. Importantly, patients, caregivers and dispensary employees acting under the law will be protected from arrest, prosecution and discrimination.

“Few things are more private than a person’s medical condition or choice of treatment,” said Alysia Melnick, MCLU Public Policy Counsel. “Patients, their doctors, and their caregivers should be able to make decisions about medical marijuana without having to fear breach of privacy, arrest or prosecution.”

The bill is the culmination of the efforts of a broad and diverse coalition of legislators, doctors, privacy advocates, patients and those who care for them. Supporters express commitment to protecting privacy rights and to reinstating the intent of the 2009 citizen’s initiative passed by a strong margin of the voters (59%).

“I am pleased that the Legislature has voted to move the law closer to the initiated bill that was enacted by the voters,” said Governor Paul LePage. “I am proud to a sign a bill that protects patient privacy and respects the will of the voters.”

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