The Big Marijuana takeover of legalization efforts in Maine

The one area of common ground I had with Paul McCarrier and his group Legalize Maine was that we both agreed that Big Marijuana (aka Marijuana Policy Project; aka Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol) would be bad for Maine.  Certainly, we parted ways on the reasons why we didn’t want Big Marijuana here.  I have written many articles, now, laying out my rationale for why Big Marijuana would be bad for this state.  For his part, Paul and Legalize Maine have previously laid out why they were refusing to align with the out-of-state, Washington D.C.- Marijuana Policy Project money.  While I strongly disagreed with him, and continue to disagree with him, on the question of legalization and marijuana policy, I could at least admire the philosophy of Mainers driving Maine marijuana policy.

Yet, as has been widely reported, Legalize Maine has relented and rolled out the welcome mat for the Marijuana Policy Project to take over their initiative.  This means that the heads of Big Marijuana corporations sitting on the Marijuana Policy Project Foundation Board are driving the push to legalize marijuana in Maine.  These aren’t companies looking out for the best interests of Mainers, these are corporations looking to fatten their profit statements with Mainers’ money.  Somehow I don’t see them offering any of those profits to cover the treatment costs of the Mainers who become addicted to their products.

When the news of this merger broke yesterday, I did the rounds on various Maine media outlets.  One of the common questions from reporters was why I thought these groups were joining forces.  After all, it isn’t exactly a secret that these two groups haven’t got along very well.  I think the answer is quite simple.  Mainers have no appetite to legalize and increase access to an addictive drug.  So the initiatives have lagged behind where they wanted to be in terms of getting the signatures they needed to qualify for the 2016 statewide ballot.  Now, with combined armies of paid signature gatherers, and the deep pockets of the D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, I have no doubt they will get the approximately 62,000 signatures they need to qualify for the 2016 ballot.  At the same time, it is very telling it is going to take those two armies to get them over the finish line.

As previously stated, the struggle to get signatures is likely rooted in the wariness of Mainers to support a policy that increases access to drugs.  Mainers have every right to be wary.  Maine, along with much of the U.S., is experiencing a significant drug abuse crisis.  While the headlines focus on the deadly and tragic trends in heroin and opiate overdoses, we cannot lose sight of the fact that substance use disorders don’t typically start with these drugs.

Many adults who have a substance use disorder started experimenting when they were adolescents. When kids start experimenting with substances, they don’t start by shooting heroin.  The predominant entry points to substance use are tobacco, alcohol, and increasingly marijuana.  Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicates that individuals with a marijuana addiction are three times more likely to be addicted to heroin  As normalizing messages around marijuana spread and become louder in volume, the risks to Maine youth increase.  Mainers are increasingly recognizing this linkage and have become justifiably skeptical of any policy proposal that will increase drug use and addiction.

Marijuana legalization is far from inevitable here in Maine and these two groups know that.  This is why in the end they’ve been forced to combine efforts to face the uphill climb.  As I said at the outset, SAM Maine and Legalize Maine couldn’t be further apart when it comes to marijuana policy.  But at least we had the commonality of being two groups of Mainers having the policy debate.  It’s too bad that Legalize Maine has allowed MPP and Big Marijuana to become the third wheel.



Scott M. Gagnon, MPP, PS-C

About Scott M. Gagnon, MPP, PS-C

Scott M. Gagnon, MPP, PS-C is a Certified Prevention Specialist and is the Director of Operations at AdCare Educational Institute of Maine, Inc. He currently serves on the Maine Substance Abuse Services Commission as well as the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, Center for Substance Abuse Prevention National Advisory Council. Scott volunteers as the Chair of the marijuana policy education and advocacy group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine and is the current Board President of the Maine Council on Problem Gambling. Scott also serves as a Co-chair of the Prevention & Harm Reduction task force of the Maine Opiate Collaborative, the effort convened by U.S. Attorney Thomas E Delahanty, II to address Maine's growing opiate and addiction crisis. Scott is the recipient of the 2015 Maine Public Health Association's Ruth S. Shaper Memorial Award and 2015 Healthy Androscoggin Will Bartlett Award and is also the 2013 recipient of the Maine Alliance to Prevent Substance Abuse Prevention Award.