GORHAM — Readers of this newspaper are aware that several communities in Maine are being presented with petitions to legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Some, like Portland, have already made “legal” the possession of small amounts of the drug. (Possession is still illegal under state and federal law.)

The marijuana lobby advances the argument that marijuana is less addictive and dangerous than alcohol, and, therefore, should not have any more severe penalties for use or possession than alcohol currently does. However, proponents of legalization, in their presentations and on their websites, virtually ignore some real-world consequences resulting from even infrequent marijuana use.

Those who believe that smoking a joint is no different from having a beer or a glass of wine are going to be in for a rude and costly awakening when they discover that the use of even small amounts of marijuana will prevent you from being hired, or cause you to be suspended from your duties and/or fired from your job, in many workplaces in Maine and throughout the country.

As a worker in the nuclear power industry, I am subject to a rigorous alcohol and drug screening program mandated by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. This program includes screening before being initially allowed on a nuclear plant site, as well as post-event, follow-up, for cause and random screening at any time.

Many other occupations employing hundreds of thousands of people have similar federal requirements, including commercial truck drivers, commercial aircraft crews and those who maintain the planes, and even the crews and staff of the Casco Bay Lines ferries. There is no provision in these programs that places marijuana use on some equivalent level with alcohol use.

This is how these requirements affect me and my family: If I choose to have a beer or glass of wine with my dinner and am randomly selected to be screened the next day, my blood alcohol level will test zero. Assuming I have no other prohibited drugs in my system, I just return to my duties.

If, however, I choose to have that beer and then smoke the equivalent of just one marijuana cigarette after my meal, and am selected to be screened the next day, my blood alcohol level will still be zero, but it is almost certain that the results of my urine screen will exceed the regulatory limits for marijuana metabolites in my bloodstream. While the marijuana lobby may argue that this is unreasonable, that’s the way it is.

The consequence of a positive test for me? I would immediately be escorted off the site, and I would be barred from entering that site, and every other nuclear site in the country, for up to five years. What would my employer do with me now that I cannot perform my duties? The answer is obvious: I would lose my job.

That’s how the system is designed to work. Is the penalty somehow unfair? No, because I was aware that this was the requirement before I agreed to take this job. Employers that are subject to these regulations make no secret that their employees will be subject to an alcohol and drug screening program.

Unfortunately, the marijuana lobby says little, if anything, about these requirements in its drive for legalization because it doesn’t fit its narrative that marijuana use is not much different from alcohol use. In fact, if you were to visit the website of the Marijuana Policy Project, the principal organization behind these proposals, you could easily come away not knowing these regulations even exist.

Not only do the rules exist, in Maine and most other states, even employers that are not subject to federal drug and alcohol testing requirements are permitted to test their employees. A quick Internet search came up with a conservative estimate that upward of 75 percent of employers in the United States screen applicants for drug and alcohol use as part of the hiring process.

The marijuana lobby needs to be open and honest. Do they really believe that marijuana possession and use as they envision it have no consequences? Will they next try to ease the existing regulatory safety requirements?

The next time you are a passenger in a commercial jet, or in a car riding next to a big rig on the highway, ask yourself whether you really want these standards relaxed. Find out for yourself about the consequences of changing these laws. And don’t rely on the marijuana lobby – it is unlikely to be much help.

— Special to the Press Herald

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