Phil: You and I first met back in 2003 as board members of Casinos No!. You remember those days?
Ethan: I certainly remember the campaign, but I honestly don’t remember the first time we actually met.
Phil: I do. And what I remember is thinking, “Who is this kid? I can’t believe I am going to have spend the next year with him in meetings!”
Ethan: And today you are saying, “Who is this kid? I can’t believe I have to write a column and go on TV with him multiple times a week!”
Ethan: Why the trip down Memory Lane?
Phil: Well, the local referenda popping up to legalize marijuana got me thinking about that casino campaign and the ones that followed.
Ethan: I knew it. You were high when we first met!
Phil: I wish! Although I still ask myself if you ever exhaled. Do you sense that the way we are going about legalizing pot feels very similar to how we went about legalizing casinos? Back then, Maine went through a patchwork of referenda written by the casino industry – an industry that cared 100 percent about their bottom line and very little about anything else.
Ethan: So true. And because of that, we have now have casinos that aren’t meeting any of their “campaign promises.” Has anyone seen the hotel and events center promised for Oxford? Did unemployment and crime drop in Bangor as they promised?
Phil: That is what happens when the Legislature allows special interests to write laws. I am anticipating that is exactly what will (is) happening with these local referenda on legalizing marijuana.
Ethan: I agree. If ever there was an issue that the Legislature needs to take up and get their arms around, it is this one. Allowing the marijuana industry to define the terms of how the drug is regulated is the exact same thing we did with alcohol and tobacco. The industry sets the terms, and we spend decades trying to get back some semblance of sanity.
Phil: From my perspective, the issue is fundamentally a federal one. The law clearly says pot is illegal, no matter what Eric Holder, any state or the city of Portland declares. In order for that to change, Congress and your president must get together and take a vote. Is it legal or not?
Ethan: Somehow, you always find a way to blame Obama.
Phil: Well, don’t you agree that this should be decided federally?
Ethan: I think this is an issue the states can handle and should. What we can’t do is create a patchwork where you can possess it in Portland, but not sell it. But if you live in Yarmouth where you need it for medicine, you can grow it in your backyard – but only up to six plants which you can also sell to other medicinal users. In one town you have legitimate business, in the next you have cash deals going down in the shadows, and everywhere we send mixed messages to kids about how harmful and addictive the drug can be.
Phil: Great point. This creates a real conflict for law enforcement and corrections. Currently, people are in jail for crimes that some municipalities are now saying are legal? Imagine the lawsuits!
Ethan: For a guy who must be high when you take some of the positions you do, you sure are making sense today.
Phil: Thanks. I think.
Ethan: The biggest issue for me, however, is the issue of addiction. As have most, I see addiction in my family, friends and those I work with on a regular basis. Before we take another addictive drug off the illegal list, we must confront how we deal with those who end up being hooked. To put it bluntly, we suck at dealing with addiction in this country.
Phil: “We suck” – is that a medical term used in recovery?
Ethan: No, but it is one used far too often to describe public policy.
Phil: As with you, I have had to witness addiction in my circle. It is a disease that pulls in the best and brightest.
Ethan: As you know, I work with young people who are trying to deal with substance abuse in themselves and their families. It’s a difficult and costly journey. Before we take too many steps forward, we should be doing more to prevent youngsters from taking the journey in the first place.
Phil: All of this leads back to where we started. Shouldn’t we have a legislative debate and vote on what the logistics and details will be before we go to much further? I’ll yield the floor to you.
Ethan: While I don’t know the specifics of what a bill might look like, I know that we will need to regulate marijuana better than what we do for alcohol and cigarettes and tax it heavily to control overuse. This will also generate the revenue needed to invest significant resources into education and addiction treatment.
Phil: And, if nothing else, we will have written a law with everyone’s interests in mind, not just the marijuana industry’s.