Since voters legalized marijuana in 2016 and the concurrent scourge of opiate addiction and deaths, Maine has been facing a self-inflicted drug policy disconnect.

On one hand, we tell opiate addicts their drug of choice is harmful both to themselves and society, while we tell another group – marijuana users – their drug is beneficial to one’s health and the overall economy.

This schizophrenic approach isn’t working, evidenced by the hundreds of people in Maine and thousands across the country who die annually from opiate abuse.

If we really want to solve the opiate crisis, we can’t say one class of pain-relieving and mind-altering drugs are harmful while praising another pain-relieving, mind-altering drug.

For several years now, government-led task forces and studies have tried to figure out and make gains on the opiate crisis. They are doing so, however, while marijuana flourishes. The conflicting message shows we’re not serious about drug addiction. We’re wagging our collective finger at opiate users and distributors, while smoking a big doobie with the other. Until we treat all mind-altering and pain-killing substances the same, the opiate crisis will continue.

When society condones drug use, those thinking about using drugs can more easily satisfy their curiosity without threat of jail time or fines. No matter how much marijuana advocates deny legalization causes an increased use of other drugs, society’s approval of dope undoubtedly leads more people to feel all drugs could be a legitimate answer to their physical and emotional pain.

Opiates and opioids are particularly amazing at killing pain and every other negative feeling, and that’s why addicts use them. But the 50-year war on drugs has taught us that if it wasn’t opiates, it’d be some other drug. Until we tackle the attitude that one drug – in this case, marijuana – is somehow OK while other drugs aren’t, our efforts to stem the current scourge of opiates will fail.

The key to winning the war isn’t more legalization, as some argue, it’s to send an overall message that getting high is never OK. States such as Maine that approve recreational marijuana are instead sending the message that getting high is not only OK, but it’s healthy and government-approved. This creates a culture that accepts inebriation as a cure to one’s problems. And it makes the fight against illegal drugs more difficult.

Like it or not, marijuana, despite advocates’ lies, is bad for one’s health. Last week, National Public Radio reported on a recent study published in The Lancet Psychiatry that found those who use marijuana daily are three times more likely to experience psychosis, which occurs when someone loses touch with reality. Those who use high-THC dope are four times more likely to experience psychotic breaks, the study found.

Marijuana advocates will laugh off such findings, but they need to open their minds that maybe dope ain’t that dope after all.

Policy makers and all Mainers need to wake up, too. When the state endorses a mind-altering drug, impressionable citizens, especially young people, can’t be blamed for surmising that if one kind of pain killer (marijuana) is OK, then maybe the anti-drug fuddy-duddies are wrong about all pain-killing drugs, even opiates.

In the 1980s we were told to just say no to all drugs. In 2016, we said yes to marijuana. I pity any task force trying to solve the opiate problem while marijuana is allowed to flourish.

John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.

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