AUBURN — SAM Maine (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) was proud to stand with South Portland on Monday, when it made a powerful statement opposing marijuana legalization.

The city, along with York and Lewiston, has been targeted for legalization by the Washington-based special-interest group Marijuana Policy Project. Community leaders and residents said loud and clear at their news conference that legalization is the wrong direction for their city. Later, the City Council unanimously adopted a resolution opposed to legalized marijuana.

As the Marijuana Policy Project tries to put its agenda on ballots in these three communities, it is important to understand what it is pushing.

Many issues have arisen in Colorado since marijuana was legalized and commercialized. Discharges from ERs for marijuana have more than doubled. There has been a frightening trend in young children admitted to ERs for accidental marijuana poisonings. Children as young as fourth-graders are selling or exchanging marijuana on school property. Fatal car crashes involving drivers who test positive for marijuana have also been on the rise.

By any objective measure, this experiment is failing. This is why cities like South Portland are standing up and saying “not here.”

SAM Maine is a grass-roots, volunteer alliance of concerned Mainers devoted to informing Maine public policy with the science of today’s marijuana. We oppose legalization, as it is a policy that is not a smart approach for Maine.

Legalization would bring “Big Marijuana” to Maine and with it the kid-friendly marketing seen in Colorado. Legalization would further normalize marijuana and increase youth access to the drug. Legalization would harm our growing and rebuilding economies, increasing already significant substance abuse costs borne by all Mainers.

Current policies may not be perfect, and SAM Maine isn’t simply advocating for the status quo. We need to identify real solutions to the real issues.

Recently, David Boyer of the Marijuana Policy Project said that high school youth thought marijuana was easier to get than alcohol, framing it as a “success” of alcohol regulation.

The truth is, according to the 2013 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey, 66 percent of high school kids say alcohol is easy to get, while 56 percent say the same of marijuana. So our current marijuana policies are doing better than alcohol regulation.

Looking toward alcohol regulation as a model for marijuana policy will take us in the wrong direction. The good news is that we have 27 Healthy Maine Partnerships working hard in every Maine community to bring both of those numbers down.

Another myth is that law enforcement wastes tons of resources chasing down marijuana users when it should be focusing on other drugs. The truth is that marijuana arrests rank last for drug enforcement arrests in Maine, far behind other drugs.

Data from the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency shows that in 2013, marijuana arrests accounted for only 6 percent of all drug enforcement arrests. Meanwhile, heroin accounted for 20 percent and prescription drugs 36 percent of all arrests. That is, respectively, more than three and six times the percentage of arrests for marijuana.

Marijuana legalization has been pitched as the solution to social justice issues. But if regulation works, then why do we still see higher arrest rates for alcohol violations among minority populations?

If anything, legalization is more likely to make social justice issues worse, as experience with the alcohol and tobacco industries has shown. The number of places where consumers can buy alcohol and tobacco tends to be much higher in minority and poor neighborhoods than elsewhere. The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth has found that young African Americans have traditionally been much more exposed to alcohol marketing compared to their white counterparts.

We invite the ACLU of Maine to meet with us and strategize how to address social justice. But let’s look for real, evidence-based solutions that would actually help these populations.

Marijuana legalization is a “solution” in search of a problem. It is a policy that would serve only the marijuana industry, padding its profits while Mainers pick up the tab for the human and social costs.

Residents of York, South Portland and Lewiston deserve better. They deserve policies that improve public health, not harm it. They deserve policies that promote environments where our children can learn, thrive, and succeed. They deserve policies that work to grow and rebuild local economies, not burden them with more social costs.

SAM Maine stands with these communities. We will continue to work together to ensure that life in these communities, and in all of Maine, is the way it should be.

— Special to the Press Herald