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Medical marijuana advocates see momentum on their side

When proponents and users of medical marijuana gathered in Deering Oaks Park Saturday for the Atlantic CannaFest medical cannabis festival, it wasn't the last word in Maine or the Northeast about a form of medicine that advocates say is gaining acceptance.9-4-med-fest-1
"It's such a big change in just the past few years even, seeing the wide mix of people openly talking about this and not being afraid of a plant, the communication; more and more people are growing and seeing the actual therapeutic benefits," said Hillary Lister, an advocate for medical marijuana use through Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, a trade association.
Lister said she attended Saturday's free event — organized by Charles Wynott, who runs We Deliver Compassion and Atlantic Cannabis Incorporated for low-income and terminal medical marijuana patients — "to get the word out about Maine's medical marijuana law."
Lister also cited ongoing rulemaking by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, which have been criticized by many advocates and legislators for being overly strict and intrusive.
Jill Stein, a Green Party Independent presidential candidate, was one of the speakers at CannaFest, and she sees stereotypes of cannabis as a substance that could harm someone. Endorsing outright legalization, Stein said these stereotypes aren't based on facts.
"As a medical doctor and a public health advocate, marijuana, cannabis is a substance which is dangerous because it's illegal. It's not illegal because it's dangerous," Stein said.
Lister said she senses a growing awareness of the healing effects of cannabis for certain patients.
"I think more and more people are having bad experiences with all the overprescribed pharmaceuticals. There's a lot of people who were really opposed to cannabis even a year or so ago who are finding it really does help," she said.
Many attendees at the festival in Deering Oaks are expected to attend the 23rd annual Boston Freedom Rally, which will promote legalization of cannabis. Planned for Saturday, Sept. 15, from noon to 6 p.m., this year's rally — at Boston Common – will try to raise awareness about Question 3, a ballot initiative for legalization of medical marijuana in Massachusetts.
Survey data recently released by Public Policy Polling shows Massachusetts' medical marijuana initiative, Question 3, with an overwhelming lead among likely voters, according to the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition.
On Saturday, Nov. 10, Lister's group, Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, will host Home Grown Maine at the Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland.
Dr. Dustin Sulak, an "osteopathic physician, healing arts practitioner, teacher, and medical marijuana pioneer," is among the billed speakers.
Sulak is medical director at Maine Integrative Healthcare based in Hallowell and Integr8 Health in Falmouth. He spoke at CannaFest about the benefits he's witnessed of medical marijuana.
"Frankly, integrative medicine gets better results," Sulak told the crowd.
"I believe that any practitioner that claims to offer integrative medicine must be familiar with the great medicine plant, cannabis," Sulak said. "In my exploration of the healing arts, I have found no other medicine that compares with cannabis, in terms of its broad application to such a variety of conditions, its ability to treat both symptoms and the underlying cause of illness. ... and its lack of toxicity and minimal side effects. And finally, of course, its ability to be produced at low cost by most patients who need it."
Sulak said he has seen patients who are unable to walk unassisted climb out of their wheelchairs, thanks to the effects of medical marijuana.
"I see combat veterans freeing themselves from nightmares and flashbacks that they had to deal with everyday. I see patients who are disabled becoming enabled and going back to work. I've seen patients avoiding surgery after they're told it's their only option. And I've seen patients getting off opioids, benzodiazapines and other dangerous drugs," Sulak said.
At Saturday's festival, individuals representing caregivers approached and wrote down the names of potential patients who are are certified under state guidelines for the medical use of cannabis.
Lister said Maine's medical marijuana program continues to flourish, but she also acknowledged that marijuana remains an illegal substance on the federal level.
"It's federally illegal, so we really try to make sure people understand how to be protected with the state law as much as possible," she said.

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