This November, Maine voters will choose whether to legalize pot in our state. What the out-of-state special interests financing this effort aren’t telling us is that Question 1 would pave the way for the creation of hundreds of neighborhood pot shops selling kid-friendly pot products like lollipops and gummy bears, easily mistaken for ordinary candy. It would also create a corporate “Big Tobacco”-like industry with the goal of making a few people rich.
The initiative is written so broadly, it would even allow for “pot bars” – that is, places where people could consume pot right on the spot. It would provide no effective regulation on marijuana advertising or edibles. That means that local pot shops could sell and promote pot candies, ice creams, sodas and highly pure marijuana “waxes.”
This has become a large part of the marijuana market in states like Colorado, and it’s how the marijuana industry will attract new users, including young people. This is the classic Big Tobacco playbook we’re talking about: Hook a generation on an addictive substance through colorful, character-shaped, sweet-flavored products.
The proponents of Question 1 would have you believe that having pot shops in our neighborhoods and on our Main Streets is a good idea. They believe that because a retailer might check ID, this will prevent youth from getting the marijuana candies sold in these shops. This utopian ideal is far from the reality we know and deal with on a daily basis when it comes to tobacco and alcohol.
The reality is that currently retailers largely do an excellent job in checking ID before selling alcohol. Yet Maine’s rate of underage drinking is significantly higher than Maine’s rate of youth marijuana use.
Data from the 2015 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey shows that 1 in 4 Maine high school students reported using alcohol in the past 30 days, while the rate for past 30-day marijuana use was 1 in 5. How can this be?
The answer is simple and one we all understand. To get alcohol, a teen simply needs to find a willing adult age 21 or older who will take the teen’s money and go buy a six-pack at the neighborhood convenience store.
This is also precisely what will happen if Question 1 passes. Your 16-year-old son or grandson will simply need to give 20 bucks to a willing 21-year-old and within minutes, they can have a bag of potent THC gummy bears.
Moreover, once these products are out of the bag, they are indistinguishable from regular gummy bears. Now ask a teacher to be able to pick out the bag of THC gummies in a crowded high school cafeteria.
Schools in legalized states are dealing with the brunt of legalized marijuana. As The Denver Post reported last fall, Colorado educators have cited marijuana as the “No. 1 problem” they have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. Educators either need to deal with students bringing marijuana onto the school premises, coming to school under the influence, or both. Meanwhile, at a recent National Prevention Network Conference, a state official from Washington reported that one school in her state went from having just one small drawer for confiscated marijuana items to now needing three large closets.
Maine should learn from states like Colorado that have legalized pot. Since Colorado legalized marijuana, it has the highest rate of youth pot use in the nation, according to a report recently released by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force – a rate 74 percent higher than the national average.
Parkview Medical Center in Pueblo, Colorado, said earlier this year that since recreational marijuana has been legal in that state, the hospital has seen a 51 percent increase in the number of children 18 and under being treated in the emergency room who test positive for marijuana. At another Pueblo hospital, St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center, nearly half of all newborns who were drug-tested because of suspected prenatal exposure also tested positive for marijuana.
Maine is already in the middle of an addiction crisis. It is well documented that we don’t have enough access to addiction treatment in Maine. The Press Herald editorial board itself has pointed that out.
Frankly, this is a tone-deaf policy proposal to legalize an addictive substance and create a massive industry to market and push that drug. That’s how we got into our current addiction crisis, thanks to Big Pharma. How does it make sense to add Big Marijuana to the mix?
At a time when our opioid epidemic is out of control, do we really want more drug problems? Maine should reject legal pot.