Petition to Allow Medical Marijuana For Drug/Opioid Addiction Rejected in Maine

By Victoria Kim 07/18/16

One Maine psychiatrist who opposes using MJ to treat drug addiction believes it would be like "pouring gasoline on the fire" of addiction.

Petition to Allow Medical Marijuana For Drug/Opioid Addiction Rejected in Maine

After months of deliberation, Maine has decided to keep drug/opioid addiction off the list of qualifying medical conditions that can be legally treated with medical cannabis. 

In January, medical cannabis caregiver Dawson Julia filed a petition with the state Department of Health and Human Services to add “Addiction to Opiate and drugs derived from chemical synthesis” to the list of debilitating medical conditions that qualify for a medical cannabis prescription. The current list under Maine’s medical cannabis law includes chronic pain, cancer and glaucoma, among others.

The commissioner of the DHHS, Mary Mayhew, issued her final decision in a letter to Julia dated July 8. In the letter, obtained by the Portland Press Herald, Mayhew said she had carefully considered the medical research, testimony from supporters, and the opinions of two Maine doctors—state health officer Christopher Pezzullo and state epidemiologist Siiri Bennett, who both sit on the Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee—before reaching her decision.

Interestingly, the two doctors didn’t outright reject the possibility that marijuana can be beneficial for those coming off of drug dependence. According to documents provided to the Press Herald, the doctors said that current human trials show marijuana’s potential to treat opioid addiction, but they concluded that for now, it should not be approved pending further research. 

“While the animal and case studies and individual testimonies presented are compelling and point toward possible future approaches to the treatment of opioid addiction, studies in humans that support marijuana use for treatment of opioid addiction have not yet been published,” Pezzullo and Bennett said in a letter this month to Mayhew.

But despite this setback, Julia says he’s going to keep fighting by working on gathering legislative sponsors for a bill that would achieve the same goal, to present to the Maine Legislature in January.

State Senator Eric Brakey (R-Auburn), who is the chairman of the legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, told the Press Herald that he would support Julia’s bill. “Why not allow an individual the right to choose? They’re not hurting anyone else,” he said.

Brakey said he’d heard anecdotally that marijuana is able to mitigate the painful symptoms of opioid withdrawal. According to petition supporters who testified at a public hearing about the petition in April, marijuana is already being prescribed to alleviate opioid withdrawal symptoms in states with less restrictive medical marijuana laws like California and Massachusetts. If Julia’s bill passes, Maine would be the first state to officially allow marijuana for the treatment of drug addiction.

However, efforts to allow marijuana to be prescribed for drug addiction has its fair share of opponents. Psychiatrist Dr. Leah Bauer of the Maine Association of Psychiatric Physicians testified at the April hearing, where she presented the other side of the debate. “Granting this petition would simply encourage another intoxicating substance in the lives of those trying to overcome the ravages of addiction and in fact, marijuana may be pouring gasoline on the fire,” she said.

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