Maine law enforcement is unprepared to deal with a legal marijuana market that could negatively affect youth and communities, a group of Maine police chiefs said Friday.

The Maine Association of Chiefs of Police came out strong against a marijuana legalization proposal during a news conference following the association’s annual fall meeting in Freeport. The association also announced it will launch a statewide education campaign about “the dangers of this poorly written bill and the problems of legalization,” said Falmouth Chief Ed Tolan, president of the association.

“Law enforcement and this state are not ready to manage the problems associated with the legalization of recreational marijuana,” Tolan said. “This plan will increase access to a harmful and addictive illegal drug, jeopardizing the healthy development of young people, and is not a smart plan for Maine.”

The legalization proposal – Question 1 on the November ballot – would set up a recreational use market for adults 21 and older. If the referendum is approved, adults would be allowed to possess up to 2 1/5 ounces of marijuana and six flowering plants. Marijuana sales at stores and social clubs licensed by the state and approved by municipalities would pay a 10 percent sales tax.

Recreational marijuana is legal in Washington state, Colorado, Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia. California, Arizona, Nevada and Massachusetts also will have legalization votes in November.

Tolan, who stood with about 30 other chiefs of police from across the state, said Colorado and Washington have seen increases in the use of marijuana, traffic fatalities and children ingesting medical marijuana products. He said the legalization push is ill-timed as the state deals with a heroin epidemic that is leading to a record number of fatal overdoses.

“It could continue to fuel the addiction crisis,” Tolan said, citing a National Survey of Drug Use and Health statistic that shows people addicted to marijuana are three times more likely to be addicted to heroin.

But Alysia Melnick, political director for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, said legalizing marijuana would allow law enforcement and public health officials to focus more of their resources on fighting the heroin epidemic instead of punishing “otherwise law-abiding adults” for using marijuana.

“We talk to patients every day, including veterans, who tell us compelling stories about how they use cannabis for pain management or to get off of opioids,” she said.

State Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, a former Cumberland County sheriff and supporter of legalization, said he believes the discussion of the opiate epidemic and legalizing marijuana should be kept separate.

“Our very reasonable fear of opiates has cast a shadow on cannabis,” he said. “They’re two separate issues. I think the average citizen can bring their own common sense to bear and make a reasonable distinction.”

Tolan said much of the concern in the law enforcement community is about drivers impaired by marijuana.

The Legislature this year did not approve a bill that would have set a blood level limit to determine impairment, leaving police without the tools they need to protect their communities, Tolan said. Many police departments do not have officers who are specially trained in drug recognition and equipped to determine if someone is impaired while driving without a chemical test, he said.

If voters approve Question 1, “we’ll have to come to grips with it,” Tolan said. “We’ll all be grappling with it.”

Mainers Protecting Our Youth and Communities, the No on 1 campaign, announced Thursday night that the Maine chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness endorsed the campaign opposing legalization. Other groups that oppose legalization include the Maine Public Health Association, Maine Hospital Association, Maine Association of School Nurses, Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services Maine, Day One, Aroostook Substance Abuse Prevention, Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office and Community Voices.

“All of these organizations are dealing with Maine’s addiction crisis firsthand and agree with us that the last thing we need is a new legal drug industry that makes profits off of addiction,” said Scott Gagnon of Mainers Protecting Our Youth and Communities.

The Maine Sheriffs Association will meet later this month to discuss legalization and determine if it will also take a position on the referendum question.