Last week saw the launch of a second initiative to put a question on the 2016 Maine ballot to legalize recreational marijuana. This effort would run alongside the stated intent of the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project to gather signatures and also put a question on the 2016 ballot.

Some media outlets are framing this as Mainers having two choices for legalizing marijuana in Maine. But the truth of the matter is they will have three choices on how marijuana policy moves forward in Maine. A third choice will be to reject marijuana legalization of both varieties and move forward with a public health-oriented approach that doesn’t create a third legalized drug.

This is a position that is supported by a growing and increasingly vocal portion of Maine voters, many who have joined our grassroots group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine. Mainers made that point loud and clear in Lewiston, where, by a 10-point margin, voters said no to marijuana legalization. National marijuana legalization advocates profess that legalization is inevitable everywhere. It’s quite clear that this isn’t true in Maine.

SAM Maine’s stance rejecting the legalization of recreational marijuana isn’t a position of morality. We aren’t out to demonize and stigmatize people who use marijuana. We know all too well the issues around stigma and how it creates barriers to treatment, education, and employment. The problem is creating a third legal drug market will increase access, increase use and increase public health risks, all of which increases those barriers. Marijuana legalization isn’t the solution, it would add to the existing problems.

The goal of SAM Maine in the marijuana policy debate isn’t to just say no to legalization and call it a day. We strongly disagree with the approaches of the Marijuana Policy Project and Legalize Maine, but we also agree that we can’t be satisfied with the status quo. We want to bring Mainers together to innovate, collaborate and advance smart approaches to Maine drug policy. Those approaches need to be science-based, data-driven, and oriented to public health solutions.

For starters, we know from national research that for every dollar we invest in prevention, we receive a return to our economy of up to $7. Much of this comes from reducing the social costs of substance abuse to Maine, which, according to a 2010 report from the Maine Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, are over $1.4 billion annually.

One of our recommendations is to shift the portfolio of our response to substance abuse. We need to accelerate the shift from an enforcement-heavy approach to an approach that is more weighted to prevention, treatment and recovery services. Prevention works, treatment is effective and people do recover. More investment into a public health-oriented response to substance abuse will work to reduce the cost of substance abuse in Maine and pass the savings on to all Maine taxpayers.

A central piece to Legalize Maine’s approach is economic development in rural Maine. As someone who grew up in Aroostook County, I agree it is an urgent need. But an important element of economic development is the workforce. Employers shoulder significant costs when it comes to substance abuse, including absenteeism, lower productivity and increased training costs due to higher turnover. In rural Maine this is more pronounced because of the reduced access to substance abuse prevention, treatment, and recovery services.

Better access to these services will create a healthier, more productive workforce that will be attractive to companies considering bringing businesses to rural Maine. Meanwhile, this will reduce the social and financial costs of substance abuse to the state, which will be passed on to all Maine taxpayers.

We can find ways to bolster Maine’s economy and reform our drug policies without legalizing a drug. Legalizing marijuana is not the solution to these problems and will only add to the social and economic costs of substance abuse.

SAM Maine is committed to advocating for those innovative and public-health oriented solutions. We welcome Legalize Maine and the Marijuana Policy Project to the table to be a part of those conversations. Let’s find a way forward together that protects our youth, protects the public health of Maine communities, and fosters the growth of our economy.

Scott Gagnon is the volunteer Director for Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine and a substance abuse prevention professional serving Androscoggin County.