SOUTH PORTLAND — Although it is impossible to address all of the fallacies and unintended consequences implicit in the social experiment called marijuana legalization, let’s continue the dialogue.

Many believe that today’s social climate makes legalization a foregone conclusion. Proponents predict a successful ballot initiative in 2016. My advice is simply to slow down.

Unlike in other states, marijuana possession in Maine is a civil violation, punishable by a fine, just like a speeding ticket. Contrary to legalization proponents’ assertions, I would challenge anyone to find a single person in the Maine prison system who is there for a marijuana charge.

Although medicinal marijuana is still a violation of federal law, which supersedes state statutes, Maine has legalized it, having passed the first such law in 1999.

At that time, qualifying patients were those with serious conditions, such as cancer, glaucoma and HIV. I never recall any drug investigation focused upon any such user, leading to the reasonable deduction that the medical marijuana laws, from the onset, have been a means to an end.

Fast forward to 2014. Under today’s ambiguous laws, almost anyone can qualify as a medical marijuana patient, be it for a debilitating condition, such as cancer, or literally for chronic toe pain. Another misnomer is that medical marijuana patients can possess only up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana, or six plants, for their own use. Not quite. Here’s a recent example:

My department received a complaint about a day care center with an odor of marijuana. Police officers and the Department of Health and Human Services, which licenses and oversees both the state’s day care providers and its medical marijuana program, went to the day care to investigate.

A structure was found on the day care property that could best be described as a marijuana processing facility. There were about 100 growing plants, ranging in size from 2 inches to 7 feet, as well as a drying room, with hundreds of marijuana buds being processed by several medical marijuana patients. Each plant is capable of producing upward of a pound of marijuana, with each pound worth between $1,500 and $5,000.

So, what happened to the day care operators? Nothing.

Both were medical marijuana patients. Based upon the information widely disseminated, one might assume that between the two of them, they should have been allowed to grow only up to 12 plants, or possess up to 5 ounces. Under the revised rules, however, a plant is a plant only if it is 1 foot wide, 1 foot tall, female and flowering. None of these plants were flowering, most likely because the providers anticipated our arrival.

But can’t a patient only possess up to 2.5 ounces of processed marijuana? Yes, but again, due to recent changes, buds that still have the stems attached are not yet (quite) processed, and fall under the new definition of “incidental marijuana.” Each patient can now possess up to 80 pounds, or potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth, of that.

So the current system, which is ripe for fraud and abuse, has effectively legalized marijuana for such users, and other rules and laws have yet to catch up.

The DHHS is not allowed to maintain records related to its marijuana clientele, nor cross-reference those users with their day care providers. The DHHS, the compliance authority, must even provide a marijuana provider 24 hours’ notice of any inspection, making the likelihood of actually finding any violations slim to none.

In this case, the providers, who had hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of marijuana at the day care, were cooking down the marijuana into “edibles” in the day care’s kitchen.

What possible harm could come to the health and safety of the children in these circumstances? Why shouldn’t the police and social service agency primarily responsible for ensuring their safety have the ability to protect them?

I have responded to armed home invasions in which the suspects have terrorized the occupants while seeking out marijuana in the home. What if such a crime were launched against this facility? What if a child were harmed?

Would the benefits of a person’s private marijuana use for their chronic toe pain reasonably offset the inability of law enforcement to effectively investigate and respond to such situations? Should a person who creates such a potentially dangerous situation not be subjected to the same penalty as a person caught speeding on Broadway?

People I speak with say this is not what they voted for when they supported medical marijuana.

Is legalization next? Seek out the facts. Avoid the hyperbole. It will be up to you.

— Special to the Press Herald

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