Maine DHHS says no to treating addiction with medical marijuana

It’s no longer a secret that I am a medicinal marijuana user and have been for years — even before it was a legal choice. It’s also no secret that I’ve used medicinal marijuana, in part, as a way to control mental health symptoms that contributed to years of pretty severe substance abuse during my youth.

However, it wasn’t until I began to research the idea of using medical marijuana to treat addiction that I became familiar with the medical marijuana caregiver community. Five minutes into my first set of interviews, I was an instant fan of this group of people. As I’ve written before, the caregivers I’ve met and their clients epitomize the definition of the word community.

Community noun

1.  a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.

2.  a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.

Without exception, each person I’ve interviewed values healing, serving others, and growing support networks above all else. They are family-oriented, friend-oriented people who look for the positive, even as people are facing dark challenges like cancer, PTSD, and other chronic and/or life threatening conditions. Central Maine caregiver Dawson Julia is no exception.

Julia is the person who petitioned the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to consider adding “addiction to opiates and drugs derived from chemical synthesis”  to the list of conditions that can be treated with medical marijuana and medical marijuana products. I include the word “products” because the caregivers and clients I’ve interviewed have explained that various concentrates (components of the marijuana plant extracted into various concentrated forms) can be a critical part of treating some conditions.


Some marijuana concentrates can be used with a liquid vape pen, similarly to an e-cigarette. Photo by Trish Callahan

Some marijuana concentrates can be used with a liquid vape pen, as shown here. Photo by Trish Callahan

Per the caregivers’ and clients’ reported experiences, these concentrates are also helpful to clients who are trying to minimize their use of prescription opiates and/or clients who are fully addicted to opiates and want to go into recovery.

Julia just found out today that DHHS said no to his petition request, but rather than dwell on the negative when we spoke on the phone, he framed the rejection as part of an ongoing process. It’s not that he wasn’t disappointed with the decision, but Julia knows that he and the community at large will continue to lobby the legislature to add the condition when the 128th Legislature convenes in 2017. The Legislative Council for the 127th had considered the idea toward the end of the session but needed more time than remained to vet the proposal fully.

Julia was also pleased that, while unsuccessful at this stage, the petition process enabled the development of a “broad base of support” for the concept, which will help when working with the legislature next session. He described the petitioning process as an opportunity “to educate people and hopefully to have changed some minds.” Julia was also pleased to have received “good press coverage,” which played a role in educating people about the potential for medical marijuana to treat addiction.

Like all the caregivers and clients I’ve interviewed Julia is also very concerned about the role the pharmaceutical industry has played in the development of Maine’s addiction epidemic. He hopes to see future legislation that looks at holding pharmaceutical companies accountable to whatever extent as is possible. Julia referred to a recent lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, and said he hopes more such actions take place, with any monies gained earmarked for addiction treatment.

And he hopes that treatment eventually includes the option to use medical marijuana. Like his colleagues, Julia is passionate in his beliefs about the potential of medical marijuana as pertaining to addiction. Like his colleagues, Julia knows that passion alone isn’t enough, and he has invested and will continue to invest the time and effort necessary to make a passion a reality.

Julia may have heard a “no” this round, but I’m guessing he and his colleagues won’t stop until they get a yes.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.