as published in the Portland Press Herald, Monday, October 17th
Even if you think marijuana should be regulated and taxed like alcohol, you should vote no on Question 1.
Why? Because a “yes” vote will enact L.D. 1701, 30 pages of legislation that does not treat marijuana like alcohol.
Instead, it creates a profit-driven industry that will aggressively market product, increase consumers and continuously push more potent (and, therefore, more addictive) products, while insisting they are not harmful. Think Big Tobacco 2.0. On steroids. And it will obliterate medical marijuana in Maine, as it has in Washington state and Colorado. Let’s take a look at what Question 1 will actually do instead of what the proponents want you to believe it will do.
• The legislation completely legalizes pot use for kids, by repealing the section of the law that prohibits it. Right now, adults 21 and over may possess up to 2½ ounces (that’s 140 joints) of pot and face a civil penalty only (i.e., fines).
Question 1 will make it legal for people over 21 and under 21 to possess and use up to 140 joints of pot. This law does not protect kids — it sets them up as a huge new market for commerce.
• The legislation establishes pot shops. Colorado now has more pot shops than Starbucks, McDonald’s or even pharmacies. Under the would-be law, pot shops are supposed to sell only to persons over 21, but there is no penalty for selling marijuana and marijuana products to youths. This law treats the marijuana retailer differently from an alcohol or tobacco retailer, who could lose their license for allowing sales to children.
• The legislation does nothing to protect the public from impaired drivers. Unlike with alcohol, there is no prohibition against driving while smoking or consuming marijuana. And although operating while impaired by marijuana would be a crime, it’s not enforceable because there is no marijuana corollary to the blood alcohol test threshold of .08.
Marijuana hits all three parts of the brain (as opposed to alcohol’s one), and there is no standard metabolism rate. There is no known number of nanograms of tetrahydrocannabinol in the blood that proves impairment. So if somebody tests at 5 nanograms or 8 nanograms of THC, that means, well, nothing.
• The legislation wreaks havoc on employers. It specifically prohibits an employer from penalizing an employee for using marijuana in a location other than the employer’s property.
This is in contrast to the medical marijuana law, which provides limits on the use of marijuana by employees. Because of the conflicts with the medical marijuana law and federal law, it will be impossible for employers to know how to respond to a stoned employee or a problem employee who happens to use marijuana.
• This bill gives landlords no rights to impose (and tenants no rights to enjoy) smoke-free policies. The medical marijuana law allows a landlord to restrict smoking on their property if they adopt a 100 percent smoke-free policy. This bill specifically allows the smoking of marijuana in any “nonpublic” place.
• This bill gives the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry a mere nine months to set up a huge regulatory bureaucracy; develop rules, policies and protocols; and train law enforcement in the investigations, searches, etc., necessary to enforce the new laws.
The Department of Agriculture, of course, has no experience, let alone expertise, in substance abuse, the law of search and seizure, commercialization of drugs or training law enforcement. It’s like asking the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to develop rules and enforce a whole new tax code.
This new regulatory and licensing structure will divert scarce police resources from crime to regulatory enforcement. It will also divert scarce court resources with endless licensing appeals.
• Now for the cost: This bill will not save money or resources. The tax revenue imagined by the proponents will be outstripped, by a factor of at least 10 to 1, by the costs generated by the law. That’s the way it is with cigarettes, alcohol, and will be with marijuana.
The “Yes on 1” campaign rhetoric is characterized by smoke and mirrors and downright dishonesty. That’s because the motive behind this effort is Big Marijuana commercialization — at a time when we are already in the center of a gargantuan, devastating and overwhelming substance abuse public health crisis in our state.
Let’s take the time to develop a smart and sensible approach to marijuana based on public health and not on what’s best for Big Marijuana. Vote no on 1.
Stephanie Anderson is district attorney of Cumberland County.