Given the ease with which Mainers can get new laws proposed via the referendum process, it’s just a matter of time before the state debates and then votes on a proposal to legalize marijuana for recreational use by adults.
If the vote were taken this year or next, it’s a safe bet that legalization would be defeated. Exhibit A in that prediction is the defeat last year in California of a ballot measure that would have legalized the drug. But with each passing year, there are more voting age adults who see marijuana as a relatively harmless substance. Someday in the near future, that will translate into a voting majority.
Problems could come, then, if a citizen initiative gets on the ballot with an attached law that is laced with unsavory details. That was the case in California, according to Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, who has proposed legalizing marijuana for recreational use by adults here in Maine. Rep. Russell’s bill, LD 1453, also would tax the sale of marijuana at 7 percent.
Specifically, LD 1453 would legalize “the personal use and cultivation of marijuana, legalizing and licensing certain commercial marijuana-related activities, while providing provisions to protect minors, employers and schools, and removing the registry system from the Maine Medical Marijuana Act.”
The proposal is likely to be quickly dispatched as an “ought not to pass” at the committee level, but Rep. Russell’s idea might initiate a grown-up discussion about a plant that, by some estimates, is the state’s biggest cash crop.
Dealing with marijuana — or not dealing with it — resembles state government’s history with casino gambling. Legislators and governors failed to step up to the plate years ago to craft a template to regulate the activity for fear of being seen as endorsing it. Yet had they done so, the tangled web of gambling facilities and proposed facilities in Bangor, Oxford, Biddeford, Lewiston and Calais might instead reflect a sensible, geographically logical plan.
It must be said that marijuana can be and is abused. Adults who use it regularly risk becoming — to put it bluntly — stupid and lazy. It should not be used by those under the age of 21.
But it also should be said that the plant is natural, it does not create a chemical dependency, it does not make people violent or cause them to have blackouts, and studies show its use has few long-term health consequences. And ironically, Maine’s worst drug problem is the abuse of prescription painkillers, which were legally produced and distributed. Yet, state and federal authorities devote many more resources to marijuana and other illegal drugs than prescription medication abuse.
Mainers have twice endorsed at the ballot booth medical marijuana. It is not a stretch to believe voters may expand access to the plant in the near future. At the very least, lawmakers should be prepared to respond to this eventuality rather than responding after the fact.