The case against legalizing marijuana in Maine

Posted May 20, 2013, at 12:57 p.m.
Last modified May 20, 2013, at 4:24 p.m.

Substance abuse is a serious problem nationwide and especially in Maine.

The Maine Office of Substance Abuse reports a 19.7 percent increase in people seeking treatment for substance abuse in 2012, and a recent study by the RAND Corporation reported a “substantial increase” in people seeking substance abuse treatment for marijuana in the U.S. and other western countries. Marijuana is among the top four drugs for which Mainers sought substance abuse treatment, along with painkillers, alcohol and heroin.

While legalization of marijuana is enjoying popular support, the case against legalization is stronger than ever, and Maine would be ill-advised to legalize this drug.

Use will increase

Legalizing marijuana will result in a significant increase in marijuana consumption for several reasons. First, marijuana will become much less expensive when it becomes a readily available and legal consumer product. Moreover, the stigma of using an illegal drug and the risk of going to court will be eliminated, thereby removing the “social cost” of use.

Consumption will be promoted by an emerging marijuana industry backed by stock market investors and hedge funds. In fact, there are already several publicly traded companies seeking to profit from marijuana. One former hedge fund manager who is on the “legalize pot” bandwagon describes marijuana as “a brand new industry.”

Marijuana is a powerful drug

President Barack Obama’s White House website notes that marijuana smoke contains carcinogens and causes lung irritation. Legalizing marijuana would fly in the face of our decades-long effort to discourage smoking and drug use. Talk about sending mixed messages to children.

A report in Scientific American states that chronic marijuana use is associated with anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorders and depression. A 2010 study in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that young adults who smoke marijuana are two to four times more likely to experience psychotic episodes. The DSM IV, published by the American Psychiatric Association to classify mental disorders, lists eight marijuana-related mental disorders.

Marijuana is more powerful today than ever with levels of THC, marijuana’s active ingredient, rising for three decades as a new breed of “weed scientists” engineer increasingly powerful strains of the drug. Marijuana was recently legalized in Colorado, and one sales executive with Colorado Marijuana Marketing boasts, “Our potencies here are off the scale.”

Car crashes

Tens of thousands of people are killed or injured in car crashes from drunk driving. The number of deaths and injuries from impaired driving will increase if marijuana is legalized as more people will drive while under the influence of the drug. In 2012, the British Medical Journal published a review of nine studies on marijuana and driver safety. It found that drivers under the influence of marijuana had twice the risk of being in a car crash compared with drivers who had not used the drug.

Little tax benefit

Taxes from legalized marijuana will not provide meaningful revenue to the state. Revenue projections from legalized marijuana are often based on the current black market cost of the drug. If marijuana is legalized, its cost will plummet and, with it, tax revenue projections.

Legalization would encourage the development of a “gray market” where marijuana could be bought and sold without payment of taxes.

In addition, proposals to legalize marijuana would create an entirely new state agency to monitor and enforce the marijuana laws. This agency will grow like a proverbial weed and, with it, the administrative cost of legal marijuana in Maine.

Flouting federal law

Marijuana is illegal under federal law, so any legislation to legalize it would contradict federal law. Under the Supremacy Clause in Article VI of the Constitution “the laws of the United States … shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby.” Thus, even if proposals become law, the legal status of marijuana in Maine will be uncertain.

Defying federal drug laws puts states on a slippery slope of defying other federal laws. In addition to rejecting federal marijuana laws, there are proposed state laws that make it illegal to implement the Affordable Care Act or to implement federal firearms restrictions. Our system of government is based on federalism, in which state and federal governments respect the boundaries of each other’s authority, and cooperate in the gray areas. Current proposals to legalize marijuana add to a disturbing trend of disregarding federal law that will have repercussions well beyond drug policy.

Dave Canarie is an attorney from South Portland and faculty member at the University of Southern Maine School of Business.

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