Legal pot: Changes in attitudes

More Americans now favor leglization of marijuana than oppose it, according to a recent report by Pew Research.
SOURCE: Gallup, General Social Survey and Pew Research Center

October 13, 2013

High hopes for legalizing marijuana in Maine

As national views over recreational use gradually shift, will next month’s vote in Portland prove that change is in the air?

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 2)

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Crash Barry, a writer from Oxford County who grows marijuana for medicinal use, lights a marijuana cigarette in Portland last week.

Photos by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Melissa Thomas of Portland says she supports legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. “I don’t want my son growing up and thinking I’m a criminal,” she says.

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Maine has now been identified as one of 10 states targeted by the Marijuana Policy Project for either statewide legislation or a statewide vote to legalize recreational use of marijuana, the group’s executive director, Rob Kampia, has said.

Kampia said Portland – if voters approve the referendum next month – could play the same role Denver did during Colorado’s legalization efforts.

Denver voted in 2005 to remove all legal penalties for possession by adults. In 2012, the state voted to legalize the drug.

“We look at Maine as being on a similar track as Colorado, only here we hope the trajectory will be three years rather than eight,” Kampia said.

Maine author and filmmaker Crash Barry has high hopes that will happen.

The 45-year-old Barry, who has authored three books and writes a column for the Bollard, grows his own marijuana for medicinal purposes – chronic pain from being a demolition worker operating a jackhammer in Washington County.

“Hopefully when folks realize the Portland law won’t cause the downfall of society, the statewide movement will gain even more momentum,” said Barry, who lives in eastern Oxford County. “My biggest concern is that Maine’s legalization efforts focus on ensuring local marijuana growers benefit economically, rather than allowing big business to capitalize on what has always been a traditional seasonal Maine industry.”

LITTLE OPPOSITION

Police say they will continue enforcing state drug laws even if Portland voters pass the ordinance, suggesting the vote will have more of a political impact than a legal one.

But, except for those warnings, there appears to be no organized opposition to legalizing marijuana in Portland.

Most of the criticism has focused on the impact the political campaign – the central message is that marijuana is safer than alcohol, and it’s plastered on city buses and bus shelters – could have on teenagers. Youth advocates, such as 21 Reasons, argue this messaging reduces the youth perception of risk when it comes to marijuana, which has been proven to lead to increases in use. Marijuana, in turn, is damaging to developing brains, they say.

Dr. Mark Publicker, a specialist in addiction medicine who previously fought against the state’s medical marijuana law, said that the absence of any organized opposition shouldn’t be construed as support for legalizing marijuana.

“There are extremely well-funded organizations nationally that are able to focus a great deal of money, influence and advocacy into a state like Maine and that’s what has happened,” Publicker said. “This time people have thrown in the towel.”

Publicker said attempts by marijuana proponents to present marijuana as a safer alternative to alcohol are based on a false assumption that those who smoke marijuana will not drink. “Of course, they’re going to do both,” he said.

Publicker also believes that, as with other drugs, between 10 percent and 15 percent of marijuana users will become addicted and that legalizing it will only increase the total number of those addicted.

Meanwhile, police have no way of testing a driver’s marijuana intoxication levels, as they can with alcohol. Publicker also fears that more people – including children – will be exposed to secondhand marijuana smoke, which is not only unhealthful but can make others high.

“There’s no such thing as secondhand drinking,” he said.

Conversely, several groups are lining up in support of the measure. The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine supports legalization here – and statewide – as a way to reduce incarceration rates.

And the NAACP of Maine supports legalization, because those incarceration rates are higher among blacks than whites.

Citing 2010 statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation in July, the NAACP of Maine said blacks in Maine are twice as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana possession. In Cumberland County, blacks are 1.4 times more likely to be arrested, but in York County, blacks are five times more likely to be arrested.

The Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine also supports legalization, saying it will allow patients who cannot afford the doctor’s recommendation now required for medicinal use to legally use it as medicine.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

rbillings@mainetoday.com

Twitter: @randybillings

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Additional Photos

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Smoke billows from a marijuana cigarette in Portland last week. On Nov. 5, the city will vote on a citizen-led referendum to enact an ordinance to legalize recreational marijuana for adults over the age of 21. There will still be no legal way for people to obtain marijuana.

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Rory Sellers of Portland says he uses marijuana recreationally. He says he and his wife "want it to be legal so we can enjoy it and not break the law."

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A smoker rolls a marijuana cigarette in Portland. Youth advocates worry about the impact of a campaign supporting legalization of the drug.



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Today's poll: Legalize marijuana

Do you support legalizing marijuana?

Yes

No

View Results