November 1, 2013

Maine Voices: Aroma of marijuana is not what smells about Portland pot referendum

There is many compelling reasons not to legalize pot possession in the city. There is no good reason to do so.

By Dave Canarie of South Portland, attorney and USM adjunct business faculty member

The message of Portland’s marijuana referendum is clear: If a city doesn’t like a state law, it can simply vote to ignore it. That’s a dangerous precedent.

about the author

Dave Canarie of South Portland is an attorney and an adjunct faculty member at the University of Southern Maine School of Business.

After all, why should a city comply with an unpopular state law when it can follow the “Portland model,” which is supported by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, and vote to exempt itself?

Following this model, if a town with a casino wants additional revenue, it could vote to “legalize and tax” prostitution, despite state law to the contrary. Some towns could refuse to follow Maine’s marriage equality law. Others could allow 18-year-olds to buy alcohol. Our rights could change every time we cross into the next town.

By legalizing marijuana, Portland would reject a law enacted by the Legislature. If individual towns are able to decide which state laws to follow and which to ignore, Maine would have an impossible patchwork of laws.

NOT NEEDED

There is no need for legalization in Portland, where possession of 2.5 ounces of marijuana or less is handled like a routine traffic ticket.

Portland police reported about 50 citations for marijuana last year. Many of those involved possession in public or of more than 2.5 ounces – which would still be prohibited under the Portland ordinance.

Legalization puts the Portland Police Department in the impossible position of being asked not to enforce laws they have sworn to enforce. What good can possibly come from that confusion?

PROBLEMS WITH LEGALIZATION

If Portland legalizes pot, it will become a marketing destination for pot dealers. Portlanders will have to engage the criminal marketplace to obtain marijuana. They will have no idea where their pot is coming from or where their money is going, and could unwittingly support criminal distribution networks that extend to other drugs.

Legalization will make Portland a magnet for users; people will come to Portland to smoke legal pot. The problem is they may be driving home while high on pot – or perhaps driving after drinking and smoking pot. A 2012 British Medical journal study found drivers high on pot had two times the risk of being in a car crash compared with drivers who were not high.

Advocates of legalization perpetuate a myth that marijuana is safe to smoke. That’s why legalization will undermine decades-long efforts to reduce smoking and drug abuse among youth.

There are already ads on buses that promote the supposed advantages of pot smoking. Glorification of marijuana will expand dramatically when Big Tobacco, and the emerging Big Marijuana industry, start advertising pot with sophisticated campaigns.

Youth who view marijuana advocacy ads perceive pot as being less dangerous, which makes them more likely to become users. Marijuana use by Portland youth increased between 2009 and 2011, during the campaigns for medical marijuana.

Youth are more likely to become addicted to pot, and marijuana use is associated with poor academic performance. Youth who smoke marijuana are two to four times more likely to experience psychotic episodes, according to a 2010 study in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Want to know about marijuana’s impact on youth? Don’t ask a lobbyist for the marijuana industry; ask a teacher, a substance abuse counselor or a pediatrician. Those groups don’t support legalization, and for good reason.

Maine has a serious problem with substance abuse, and legalizing marijuana expands access to a drug that can be abused. Marijuana use will inevitably rise.

Increasing numbers of people are seeking treatment for marijuana abuse in the U.S. and elsewhere, according to a RAND study. This is not surprising because marijuana is much more potent today than it was in the hazy 1960s and ‘70s.

In 2012, there were almost as many treatment admissions in Maine for marijuana as there were for heroin. There were more treatment admissions for marijuana than crack cocaine, methadone and bath salts combined.

BIG TOBACCO

Big Tobacco can’t believe its good fortune with the emergence of legal marijuana. After decades of declining cigarette use, the legalize pot movement is throwing Big Tobacco a lifeline and a new product to sell. Tobacco companies are gearing up by reserving marijuana-themed Internet addresses and developing pot marketing plans. Venture capitalists are getting in on the action, too, eyeing cash windfalls.

The legalize pot movement is doing the groundwork for big businesses that will profit from legalization. Some may smell the aroma of marijuana with legalization – but others smell money, and lots of it.

— Special to the Press Herald

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