This Wednesday at 1 PM in State House 436, the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee will have hearings on two bills seeking to legalize recreational marijuana in Maine. The bills are LD 1380 from Representative Diane Russell (D-Portland) and LD 1401 from Representative Mark Dion (D-Portland).
Both bills offer 30-some odd pages of language describing their vision of legalizing the drug in Maine. It’s pretty clear as you read through the bills, that these are bills that are for the marijuana industry, not the people of Maine. Each bills provisions are simply about setting up commercial marijuana markets that will open up shops throughout Maine while also allowing Mainers to grow marijuana at their homes. Simply put, both bills will dramatically increase access to the drug, particularly to our most vulnerable populations including our youth.
In fact, each bill is backed by the marijuana industry. Representative Dion’s bill has been endorsed by the Maine Association of Dispensary Owners. Why are they backing Rep. Dion’s bill? Maybe because…
“Dion said his proposal gives existing dispensaries preference when transitioning into the recreational market…”
Meanwhile, Rep. Russell’s bill is backed by the Marijuana Policy Project, which they proudly promote on their website. MPP is the Washington D.C.-based marijuana lobbying group, itself funded and driven in large part by the Big Marijuana industry. The MPP Foundation Board of Directors is a who’s-who of CEOs of marijuana companies and investment groups. They are the primary force behind one of the groups attempting to legalize recreational marijuana through a referendum in the 2016 election.
So essentially what we are looking at here is a sort of “turf-war”, a battle of who would get to control a marijuana market in Maine. These bills aren’t about fixing any social issues. They aren’t about improving the quality of life in Maine. They aren’t about moving Maine forward. These bills are not for the people of Maine.
The Threats to Youth, Safety, and Health
Marijuana legalization will pose significant threats to the health and safety of our youth and vulnerable populations. This isn’t conjecture, this is reality in Colorado. The latest volume of the Rocky Mountain HIDTA report on the impact of legalization provides an extensive list of negative health and safety impacts piling up in Colorado:
- Youth use increased 6.6% between 2012 and 2013.
- In 2006, before legalization, Colorado was ranked 14th in the nation for marijuana use by 12-17 year olds. In 2013 they were 3rd.
- Traffic fatalities involving operators testing positive for marijuana increased 100% from 2007 to 2012
- From 2013 to 2014 when retail marijuana businesses began operating, there was a 167 percent increase in explosions involving THC extraction labs.
- From 2011 to 2013 there was a 57% increase in emergency room visits related to marijuana. Hospitalizations related to marijuana have increased by 82% from 2008 to 2013.
- Marijuana-related exposures to children ages 0 to 5 went from just 4 in 2006 to 38 in 2014, a 950% increase
All of these issues are directly related to their being more access to marijuana which of course is directly related to a commercial marijuana market existing in Colorado. The marijuana legalization advocates will often reference the dangers of alcohol, and indeed alcohol is a dangerous drug that creates many harms to youth and adults. The driving factor, however, is the market for alcohol which creates greater access and creates products and marketing appealing to children. Then there is also the issue of how the alcohol industry targets minority and disadvantaged populations. We’re kidding ourselves if we think the marijuana industry won’t follow suit.
Many parents and community leaders have come to SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) Maine extremely concerned with what a commercial marijuana market in Maine would do to communities. The coalition opposed to marijuana legalization has been growing steadily since our launch. What issues are the coalition members concerned about?
- Parents are concerned because they know that 1 in 6 youth who use marijuana will become addicted. They know that a commercial market means more access and more youth experimentation.
- Community leaders are concerned because they know marijuana increases public safety risks. Marijuana use doubles the risk of car crashes.
- Treatment and health professionals are concerned because they know the marijuana of today is much more potent than the marijuana of the 60s and 70s. This translates to increased risk of addiction amongst youth and adults alike.
- Employers are concerned because they know marijuana addiction leads to lowered worker productivity and increases risks at the workplace. The commercial marijuana market had already caused businesses to relocate. This one because of nuisances from a neighboring marijuana establishment. And this one because of employees constantly coming to work impaired.
Silencing Maine Voters
Finally, it is rather unfortunate that Representative Russell and Representative Dion, in their public comments, want to declare that the debate is over as to whether or not marijuana should be legalized in Maine. This of course works in the favor of the industry which doesn’t want public debate about the impact of its practices on youth and public health. However this is very disappointing ‘coming from elected leaders as it attempts to silence and disenfranchise the many Maine voters who have legitimate concerns.
This has been one of the goals of SAM Maine, to provide a platform for parents and other Mainers to have their voice heard. All Mainers who fear what legalized marijuana would bring to their communities should be empowered to attend the hearings on Wednesday. We must ensure that we continue to have a robust, science-based debate that allows all to have a voice. We expect that there will be a strong showing of concerned Mainers, ready to implore the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee to reject these bills and protect the youth and communities of Maine. With these bills behind us, we can then pivot to the conversation of how we can make drug policy reforms that truly address social justice and criminal justice issues that isn’t about creating Big Tobacco 2.0. That is an important conversation to have.