Sunday, March 9, 2014
Maine's medical marijuana program, which has gone through numerous changes in recent years and could change more during this legislative session, has a new manager.
Marietta D'Agostino was hired to fill the position left vacant last November when John Thiele stepped down. She began work last week.
D'Agostino has spent her career mostly in social services, including stints as a child protective caseworker, a juvenile corrections officer and a jail captain at Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset, according to information provided by the Department of Health and Human Services.
"Marietta's diverse experience in developing policy and program management, as well as a familiarity with law enforcement, makes her a good fit for this position," said Kenneth Albert, director of DHHS' office of licensing and regulatory services, which includes the medical marijuana program.
John Martins, a spokesman for DHHS, said D'Agostino was not available for an interview on Thursday.
Thiele resigned in early November but then asked to be reinstated. The department declined to take him back. He had indicated that he would appeal that decision, but Martins said the department had no information about an appeal.
Medical marijuana advocates had expressed concern over Thiele's sudden departure because they had a good working relationship with him. Paul McCarrier, legislative liaison for the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, said representatives of his group met earlier this week with D'Agostino and Albert.
"It was a great meeting. We were impressed with how willing they are to hear our concerns and help engineer a system that best serves patients," McCarrier said Thursday.
D'Agostino's annual salary will be $54,745.
Maine voters legalized marijuana for medical purposes through a citizens initiative back in 1999, but the program has undergone a significant expansion in the past few years.
In 2009, voters overwhelmingly passed a law that created nonprofit marijuana dispensaries, allowed certified caregivers to grow marijuana for as many as five patients and expanded the acceptable conditions under which a patient could be certified.
By most estimates, the program has grown considerably, although the state has no way to track the number of medical marijuana patients. Another new law, passed last year, made registration voluntary, so there is no way to know how many patients have been certified or how many doctors are certifying patients. Some have argued that fewer restrictions have made the system ripe for abuse, especially because one of the new conditions -- intractable pain -- is subjective.
McCarrier said Maine's medical marijuana program is still new but he said other changes should be considered. A number of bills have been submitted before the current Legislature to expand the program, including a bill by Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, that would legalize medical marijuana for any diagnosis, as longer as a doctor is willing to prescribe it.
The Maine Medical Association, which represents the state's doctors, said it would likely oppose any further expansion of medical marijuana laws.