SPRINGVALE — Colorado did it, and so did Washington. Portland voters said yes to legalizing marijuana, and there are efforts in Lewiston, South Portland and elsewhere in Maine to legalize pot, even though the drug remains illegal by federal standards.

“New data shows an increase in marijuana use,” said Connie Roux, a substance abuse prevention coordinator with Partners for Healthier Communities.

“It seems like we’re normalizing it,” said Nicole Ivey, coordinator with the drug-free communities program of Strategies for a Stronger Sanford.

So the two agencies, coupled with the Sanford Strong Coalition, put together a program Monday about marijuana policy in the state, its legal status now and how changes in its legal status might affect the community.

Dr. Mark Publicker, an addiction specialist who practices at the Mercy Hospital Recovery Center in Westbrook and who speaks out regularly about drug addiction, said those who start using drugs and other substances at a young age will likely struggle with addiction for a lifetime.

“The easier the use, the greater the likelihood of addiction,” Publicker said.

He said smoking marijuana affects the brain development of young people, resulting in poor educational outcomes, among other difficulties. Publicker showed images of how he said marijuana is being marketed in Colorado ”“ designed, he said, to appeal to young people. And, he said, the advent of marijuana lollipops and gummy bears is obviously aimed at adolescents.

And while marijuana is not an opiate, Publicker said Maine has the second highest opiate addiction rate in the nation.

“Why in the world are we seeing a promotion of another intoxicating drug in the state?” he asked.

He called the Sanford area “a mess” when it comes to addiction.

“Draw a 10-mile radius,” he said. “That is why I came here.”

More than one in four Sanford High School students has admitted to smoking marijuana within 30 days of a recent survey, and one in 13 junior high school students said they smoked pot within the last 30 days, according to statistics provided by Ivey, who said the figures are slightly higher than the state average.

Sanford students’ consumption of alcohol is slightly less than the state average, she said, with one in four high school students admitting to drinking within the last 30 days of being surveyed, while 1 in 21 junior high school students said they did.

Monday’s discussion, however, was all about marijuana. It attracted some Sanford High School students, community members, those who work in the substance abuse and prevention field, law enforcement and others.

Speaking about medical marijuana was Marietta D’Agostino, manager of the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Program.

One attendee pointed out all legal drugs are tested by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

D’Agostino acknowledged that other drugs undergo rigorous testing. She pointed out that marijuana remains illegal, and said the Maine program is operating in violation of federal law.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or [email protected]

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