February 22, 2013

Maine lawmaker pushes to legalize small amounts of marijuana

Similar propositions have been defeated before in Maine, but now two other states have legalized it, demonstrating a wider acceptance.

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

(Continued from page 1)

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Libby said government should not decide whether people can use marijuana.

"You teach moralities; you don't enforce moralities," he said. "Being a limited-government Republican, that means not telling people what to do in their own home."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine also supports the bill. At the news conference, Shenna Bellows, ACLU executive director, called it "a vital bill because it would address the overwhelming societal problem of over-incarceration."

Gordon Smith, executive vice president of the Maine Medical Association, said his organization won't take a position on the bill. But he suggested that dedicating a portion of tax revenue to substance abuse acknowledges that marijuana use isn't risk-free.

"When it leads you to other things, people die," he said. "There's a certain percentage of people who shouldn't gamble because they can't stop. There's a certain number of people who shouldn't drink (and) shouldn't smoke marijuana because they're going to be addicted."

Taxing marijuana is a new and uncertain proposition nationally. While some have said it could close state budget gaps, estimates on its actual impact are wide-ranging.

In a 2010 study, the libertarian Cato Institute said Maine could take in $12.2 million in tax revenue annually if it legalized and taxed marijuana, and save an additional $14.3 million in enforcement costs. If every state legalized and taxed marijuana, it could generate a total of about $8.7 billion in revenues for the states and save them about the same amount in enforcement costs, the institute said.

A Washington state bill would levy an equal tax on medical marijuana dispensaries' sales of marijuana and cannabis-infused products.

That's controversial, as many advocates there believe medicine shouldn't be taxed. Sponsors of the bill say they're trying to avoid maintaining two marijuana markets -- one taxed and one not.

In Colorado, the initiative that legalized marijuana made it subject to a normal sales tax and authorized the Legislature to impose an additional excise tax of up to 15 percent.

This is expected to result in $50 million in tax revenue annually, with the first $40 million going to a school construction fund and the rest going to the state's general fund, The Huffington Post has reported.

Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

mshepherd@pressherald.com

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Today's poll: Legalizing marijuana

Should Maine legalize recreational marijuana use?

Yes

No

View Results