LEWISTON, Maine — Anticipating a showdown in 2016, a national group called Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) launched a Maine chapter Wednesday with a local advocate at the helm.
Scott Gagnon, state coordinator for SAM Maine, described the group as having a nuanced approach to marijuana use; it’s against both legalization and heavy enforcement.
“We can’t arrest our way out of the problem,” said Gagnon, a substance-abuse prevention manager for Healthy Androscoggin.
He said the all-volunteer state chapter has been in the works for more than a year. The timing of its launch wasn’t by chance, coming the day after Portland voters widely passed a measure decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana for personal use.
The group behind that effort, the Marijuana Policy Project, plans to organize a statewide referendum in 2016 to legalize the drug for recreational use if the Legislature doesn’t legalize it first.
Gagnon thinks that would be a mistake.
“We’re looking at building up our people power,” he said. “The other side of the conversation is a lot more well-funded.”
New Hampshire, Vermont and Colorado have Project SAM chapters. He hopes to sign on doctors, businesses and civic leaders to the campaign.
“Maine looks to be one of the next battlegrounds,” Gagnon said.
According to Project SAM, which has former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy as a national chairman, its goals include:
— Preventing “Big Marijuana,” which it likens to a version of Big Tobacco in marketing to children.
— Promoting research for medical marijuana uses that don’t involve smoking or psychoactive side effects.
“Legalization has its own set of issues,” Gagnon said. “At the end of the day, we just want to make sure everybody is fully informed and what the possible outcomes could be.”
He plans media and educational events.
David Boyer, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said his group can’t start collecting signatures until 18 months before the target date for the referendum in November 2016. It will have to get to work sooner, however, to craft a proposal that the broader marijuana community can support and to first try getting a bill passed in the Maine Legislature.
It got the Portland marijuana measure passed with little vocal opposition. Project SAM is the first national group to organize against it in advance of a statewide vote in Maine.
“SAM and its principles say they support a middle-ground approach, but their goal is simply to maintain marijuana prohibition,” Boyer said Wednesday. “A majority of Americans are ready to move on and adopt a more sensible and effective marijuana policy.”