Should Maine tighten the reins on its marijuana caregiver industry?

Good morning from Augusta, where the days are just packed.

This morning, the Health and Human Services Committee will consider 11 — eleven! — different bills related to the state’s medical marijuana industry.

One of those bills, LD 1392 by Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, is raising red flags with the state’s medical marijuana caregiver program, which has operated as a largely informal cottage industry — and would like to keep it that way.

The bill would formalize the industry in many ways, including providing a  stronger framework of legal oversight, including stiffer penalties and more uniform registration requirements for nearly all patients and medical marijuana cultivators.

A public hearing on the bill is scheduled for 9 a.m. Work sessions on the other 10 medical marijuana bills will follow.

Meanwhile, the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will chew several election, campaign finance and off-track betting bills.

And — no joke — the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee will consider LD 1179, An Act to Prohibit the Selling of Humans, because, apparently, that’s not already illegal.

Enjoy your weekend, and as always, don’t forget to tell all your friends, family and bitter enemies to subscribe to the Daily Brief. Here’s the link. — Mario Moretto.

A Kennedy is coming to Maine to talk about vaccines

Yup, one of those Kennedys.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a noted believer in the widely-debunked connection between vaccination and brain disorders such as autism, will be in Augusta on Monday to tell lawmakers about the dangers of thimerosal.

Thimerosal, a preservative found in some vaccines, contains trace amounts of mercury, making it really dangerous to human health, Kennedy believes.

A broad scientific consensus, though, disagrees, with organizations such as the CDC, American Academy of Pediatrics and National Academies’ Institute of Medicine, reporting trace levels of thimerosal are safe, according to the Washington Post, which wrote an excellent story last year about RFK Jr.’s anti-vax activities.

ICYMI, three quick facts from our health reporter, Jackie Farwell, which she deploys when writing about vaccination:

  • “The scientific consensus is overwhelming that vaccines are safe for the vast majority of people and effective at reducing or eliminating deadly disease. Some describe immunization and the subsequent stamping out of infectious illnesses like polio as the country’s greatest public health achievement.”
  • “The study that purported vaccines can cause autism — a founding document of the current anti-vaccine movement — has been resoundingly discredited. The British medical journal that originally published the study retracted it and its author was stripped of his medical license.”
  • “Most Maine parents vaccinate their children. While the opt out rate is on the rise, 95 percent of parents in the state sought no exemptions during the 2013-14 school year.”

At an rate, Kennedy, who’s written a book about the alleged dangers of thimerosal, will join the Maine Coalition for Vaccine Choices to lobby lawmakers in an effort to weaken state vaccination requirements.

The Health and Human Services Committee will hold public hearings on three bills related to vaccination standards on Monday, May 11.

One bill seeks to end an exemption that allows parents to skip vaccines for their children for philosophical reasons, while another bill would make opting out harder. A third proposal by the coalition, which opposes mandating vaccines, aims to create a new office within the state Department of Health and Human Services to evaluate vaccine injury claims.

Regardless of dubious scientific claims, the vaccination debate has raised interesting questions about when and how the government should be able to dictate health regimens, and about the ethics of regulating what does — or doesn’t — go into people’s bodies.

After the committee hearing, Kennedy and filmmaker Eric Gladen will head to the Jewett Auditorium to screen “Trace Amounts,” a documentary about Gladen’s mercury poisoning, which he believes resulted from a tetanus shot. — Mario Moretto, with a big H/T to Jackie Farwell.

Battled and bruised, minimum wage increase clears Labor Committee

LD 952, which would increase the state’s minimum wage by 50-cent increments each year until it hit $9.50 in 2018, was approved by lawmakers on the Labor Committee yesterday.

But like most of the contentious bills in the committee, the report was divided on partisan lines. A majority composed of all six committee Democrats and one independent, who caucuses with them, approved of the measure.

Three Republicans on the committee opposed the bill outright, while three others supported an amended version that would have tied a minimum wage increase to a prohibition on municipalities enacting their own minimum wages — something Bangor and Portland are currently attempting, much to Gov. Paul LePage’s chagrin.

Those of you who have been paying attention all session can say it with me, now: The bill faces steep odds of passage given the divided nature of the Legislature, where Republicans control the Senate and Democrats the House. LePage opposes the bill, as well. — Mario Moretto.

Reading list

Trust me on this one

vanished_title.jpegYou’re going to want to check out “Vanished: The untold, unsolved case of Jessie Hoover.” Like, now.

It’s a gripping multimedia story about a woman who walked into the Maine woods back in 1983 and was never heard from again.

Since her disappearance on a remote stretch of the Appalachian Trail, Jessie Hoover’s name has been little more than a footnote in Maine history. Her name was forgotten for decades, and only listed recently in public missing person reports and unsolved case files.

Yet her family in White Settlement, Texas, still waits for an answer to a question first asked 32 years ago: What happened to Jessie Hoover? Did she really simply disappear without a trace?

Big kudos to BDN writer Christopher Burns who reported the story, which also features visuals by the BDN’s Brian Feulner and by Brandon Wade in Texas. “Vanished” was edited by Tony Ronzio, John Holyoke and Sarah Walker Caron.

You can read it here.– Mario Moretto.

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.