AUGUSTA — Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1995, Falmouth resident Kelly Irwin found that marijuana worked better to treat her pain, fatigue and nausea far better than the opiates she was prescribed.

Irwin has successfully grown her own medical marijuana, but she worries she won’t be able to do that anymore if legislators approve new regulations on cultivation.

She was one of dozens patients, caregivers and advocates who packed a legislative committee room to overflowing on Monday to complain about proposed requirements for 8-foot fences, motion-activated floodlights, property setbacks and vegetative plant limits.

“My current growing location meets the intention of the law in that I grow my marijuana on a secure and private deck, which is 12 feet off the ground, with no outdoor stair access,” Irwin said. “The deck’s location obscures the plants from view. The private deck’s location is the only possibility for me because of my mobility issues.”

The patients and caregivers said the proposed rules would limit access to medical marijuana for low-income patients and could actually undermine security for growers.

The Department of Health and Human Services, which has proposed the rules, will accept public comments on the proposed rules until Aug. 23.

Regulations must be updated following last year’s passage of L.D. 1296, a bill that liberalized medical marijuana laws, most notably by removing the requirement that patients must register with the state.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, said some of the new rule changes do not reflect the intent of legislators, which was to increase legal access to medical marijuana.

Sanderson said the rules impose an unnecessary burden on cultivation, and some portions are too vague. The rules say, for example, that growers must comply with unspecified “other security measures” required by the Department of Health and Human Services.

We must “ensure that law enforcement officials have clear definitions of what is or is not legal, so that we aren’t inadvertently creating a situation where a cultivator’s misinterpretation of definitions put them at risk of criminal charges,” Sanderson said.

Several people said that an 8-foot fence would be prohibitively expensive to build and would block sunlight from reaching marijuana plants.

Jake McClure, of Washington, said everyone’s security needs differ, and an 8-foot-high fence would undermine the security of his cultivation. Someone stole marijuana from his property last year, he said.

“I built this humongous cage in my backyard to be completely compliant, and unfortunately I wasn’t able to conceal it from the road,” he said. “It was like a sign saying, ‘Medical marijuana grown here,’ and some of it went missing,” McClure said.

Steve Ruhl, of Lincoln, was one of several people to object to a rule requiring the cultivation enclosures to be placed 25 feet from property boundaries. Ruhl said municipalities typically decide their own setbacks, and in many communities gardens can be planted right up to property lines.

“These plants are not dangerous,” Ruhl said. “They are not toxic. We should not be treating them differently from any other garden plant.”

Several people said the regulations place an inordinate burden on caregivers and low-income patients. Many patients must grow their own because they cannot afford to buy from caregivers, much less from dispensaries.

“The market forces on this are all out of whack,” Irwin said. “The dispensaries which monopolize the distribution are not able to provide enough marijuana; there’s a waiting line to get it, and the price is high. Meanwhile, the caregivers are capable of providing unlimited amounts, and it’s a fantastic method of distribution.”

Some people testifying Monday asked for changes not addressed in the proposed rules, including a couple of nurse practitioners saying they should be allowed to prescribe medical marijuana.

“I can prescribe opiates, I can prescribe anything I’m trained to prescribe,” said Kristina King, who lives in Rockland and works in Hallowell. “I can set legs. I can stitch your wound, but I cannot, cannot certify you as a medical marijuana user if you need it. There are not enough physicians in the state of Maine who are willing to take the risk to do it.”

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]

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