Imagine a war that drags on for four decades, costs the American people over a trillion dollars, tears American families apart and makes little to no progress toward the desired outcome. By any measure, that is a failed war. Yet this perfectly describes the war on drugs.

Legalizing, regulating and taxing the use of marijuana by adults 21 and older will bring a new approach to our marijuana laws, making them more fair, more compassionate and better at improving public health and increasing public safety. For those reasons, the ACLU endorses a “yes” vote on Question 1 in November.

Some argue that marijuana has already been “decriminalized” and that Mainers don’t really face negative consequences for possessing or using marijuana. The fact is, possessing, growing, selling or buying marijuana remains illegal. And police officers arrest and cite Maine people by the thousands for doing so, because that is what they are instructed to do under current law.

In fact, Maine spends $8.8 million every year enforcing laws prohibiting marijuana possession. Meanwhile, like the rest of the country, we face a budget crisis. Each year, our Legislature struggles with drastic cuts to education and health and human services, while budgets for prisons and jails grow and officials in Augusta push to hire more prosecutors.

The human cost of arresting and incarcerating nonviolent marijuana offenders is even higher. A young person arrested for possessing even a small amount of marijuana can face a criminal record that follows her for the rest of her life – every time she applies for a loan, an apartment or a job – erecting significant barriers to success.

What’s more, the war on marijuana is enforced along color lines. Black people and white people use marijuana at the same rates, but black people in Maine are twice as likely to be arrested or cited for marijuana as are white people. Legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana is the best way to end that disparity.


It is now a well-known fact that the United States has more people in prison and jail – in total and per capita – than any other country in the world. There are 2.3 million people behind bars in this country, and 25 percent of them are locked up for drug offenses. Yet this explosion in arrests and incarceration has done little to nothing to curb drug use. It’s time to face the facts: We cannot arrest our way out of the drug problem.

The money and police time spent enforcing marijuana laws could be better spent on measures that keep communities safe, like investigating serious and often-unsolved crimes and investing in public health programs, including drug prevention and treatment. Police ought to focus on keeping our roads safe and stopping violent criminals, not clogging our courts and jails with people who use marijuana.

And the state should benefit from the sale of marijuana. Unlike the money lost to the current black market, under this proposal taxes on marijuana sales could go to mental health and addiction services, public schools, drug prevention and local and state police.

Jailing individuals for using marijuana does not make sense from a civil liberties perspective, from a civil rights perspective, from a fiscal perspective or from a prevention perspective. Question 1 offers a better approach that addresses the most urgent priorities for our community: stopping the wrongs associated with jailing people for marijuana; regulating and restricting the availability and sale of marijuana to responsible adults while better protecting kids; and generating much-needed revenue.

At the ACLU, we have the benefit of learning from our colleagues in every state, including those that have legalized marijuana. Overwhelmingly, we hear from our partners in Washington state, Colorado and Oregon that legalization has been a step forward for their state.

Their residents agree: A poll released in September showed that 61 percent of Oregon voters think the legalization of recreational marijuana has had a positive impact on the state. Even Colorado’s Gov. John Hickenlooper, a one-time opponent, now thinks legalization is working for his state.

It’s time to choose a smart approach to drug policy over the disastrous war on drugs. Treating marijuana use as a crime has failed on all counts, and we have a better path forward. Join us in voting “yes” on Question 1.


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