Pubdate: Fri, 03 May 2013
Source: Maine Sun Journal (ME)
Author: Scott Thistle


Scott Thistle, State Politics Editor Maine | Friday, May 3, 2013 at
5:00 pm AUGUSTA - Dozens testified Friday on a bill that would let
Maine voters decide whether to legalize marijuana for recreational

Those in favor of the change told the Legislature's Criminal Justice
and Public Safety Committee that prohibition doesn't work and the
country's 30-year war on drugs has been a failure.

"As a fiscal conservative, I'm very concerned about useless government
programs that create waste and waste taxpayer dollars and increase the
deficit," Ashley Ryan of Portland told the committee. Ryan is a
national committeewoman for the Maine Republican Party.

Ryan said federal government studies show 41 percent of Americans have
tried marijuana at least once and she noted that the past three U.S.
presidents have all admitted to at least trying marijuana. "Not only
is the war on drugs ineffective, it's destructive to society and it's
a costly burden."

But those against making recreational marijuana use legal said
expanding access to addictive drugs would cost the state more than the
tax revenue generated by the regulated sale of pot.

"Any plan that will create public safety and health care costs that
far outweigh any revenues generated and will diminish workforce
capacity is a not a smart plan for Maine," said Scott Gagnon, an
Auburn-based substance abuse counselor.

Gagnon said alcohol and tobacco abuse costs the country an estimated
$428 billion per year, but state and national taxes on those products
raise only $14.5 billion per year for the government.

Gagnon and other substance abuse counselors told the committee to
think long and hard about normalizing marijuana use. They also noted
that teen use of marijuana had increased substantially from 2009 to
2011 after Maine's legalization of medical marijuana.

Many said very potent marijuana is more readily available to teens,
and much of it is being diverted from the medical marijuana industry
in the state.

Gagnon also said it was unclear how safe or dangerous marijuana was
and whether its medical uses were as effective as claimed.

"I strongly believe that any plan that increases access to a harmful
and addictive illegal drug, jeopardizing health development of our
young people, is not a smart plan for Maine," he said.

The bill, LD 1229, sponsored by Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland,
proposes to revamp Maine's marijuana laws, allowing people age 21 and
older to legally possess as much as 2 1/2 ounces at a time.

It also would establish an excise tax of $50 per ounce at the
wholesale level and a 5 percent tax for retail sales. Ten percent of
that revenue would be used to regulate sales, 10 percent would go for
addiction treatment, 5 percent would fund research on marijuana
through 2021 and the balance would go to the state's General Fund.

Russell said legislatures in Washington and Colorado refused to get
ahead of the issue and citizen initiatives legalizing recreational
marijuana use that passed in both states in 2012 left lawmakers
hurrying to craft workable laws.

"Because they did not believe the referendum was going to pass, they
had to scramble to set up legislation after the fact, which created
serious gray areas in the meantime, before those regulations took
effect," Russell said.

She said legal marijuana was coming to Maine, either via referendum
set by the Legislature or by a citizen-based initiative. She warned
her colleagues they were in a position to set the rules for Maine,
rather than having those rules set by any special-interest group that
was best able to fund a legalization campaign.

Her bill presents the Legislature with an "opportunity to get ahead of
this issue and to look at it through the lens of law enforcement,
through the lens of parents and teachers and to address the concerns
that people have about access to children . . . but we can actually
get control of the market," Russell said.

Her bill would impose the same restrictions that apply to tobacco use,
and would ban marijuana use in public places. It would make it legal
for individuals to grow as many as six plants if they are cultivated
in a locked space.

If passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Paul LePage, the
question would go to voters in November.

While dozens testified for the bill, those testifying against it
included Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Maine Chiefs of
Police Association.

Schwartz said his association voted unanimously to oppose the
legislation. He said if Maine legalizes marijuana, the state would
become a magnet for drug dealers from other states who would come here
to supply their trade.

"Maine would be a launching pad for illicit marijuana across the
Northeast," Schwartz said.

But Jack Cole, who retired after 26 years with the New Jersey State
Police as a detective lieutenant and is chairman of the national group
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, said the country's marijuana
policies are terribly flawed and financially ruinous.

His organization does not condone drug use of any type other than for
medicinal purposes, but, "We know that drug use will never end for a
small percentage of our society," he said. "And that use is not
dependent on whether the drug of choice is considered legal or
illicit. The goal, then, should be to create a system acknowledging
those facts, while reducing the deleterious aspects of drug use as
much as possible."

He argued that legalizing and regulating marijuana would do more to
keep it out of the hands of children than any other action.

Many testifying for the measure rebutted the idea that marijuana is a
gateway substance that leads to more addictive and destructive types
of drugs, but Travis Winter, a recovering addict from the Bangor area,
had a different story.

Winter told the committee he had been in and out of residential
substance abuse treatment for years and was finally clean and had
recently graduated from high school. He said those he had lived with
in group homes for substance abuse all started the same way - with

The committee plans to take up the bill again during a work session
May 10.
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