Pubdate: Sun, 13 Oct 2013
Source: Portland Press Herald (ME)
Copyright: 2013 MaineToday Media, Inc.
Author: Randy Billings


As National Views Over Recreational Use Gradually Shift, Will Next 
Month's Vote in Portland Prove That Change Is in the Air?

PORTLAND - Melissa Thomas is a 38-year-old interior designer for a 
local paint company. She has a 5-year-old son, and she is engaged to 
be married.

She shows up to work on time, and belongs to a book club and mothers 
groups. She pays her bills and is closing on the purchase of a house 
in South Portland next month.

And like an increasing number of Americans, she likes to smoke 
marijuana - not for its medical benefits but because she enjoys it.

"Alcohol makes me sleepy," said Thomas, a well-dressed, well-spoken 
woman with long curly hair and an engaging smile. "Marijuana does the 
opposite  it tends to kick-start me, especially creatively."

Thomas believes she uses marijuana responsibly, limiting her use to 
the occasional weeknight or weekend. She says she doesn't drive after 
smoking and never uses marijuana around her son or before going to 
work. She firmly believes that children and teenagers, whose brains 
are still developing, should never use the drug.

But, she says, marijuana use by a responsible adult should be legal. 
And she is far from alone. After decades of shifting attitudes, more 
Americans now support legalizing marijuana than oppose it, according 
to national surveys.

On Nov. 5, Portland voters will try to make it so, at least within 
city limits. Voters are widely expected to pass a citizen-led 
referendum and enact an ordinance to legalize recreational marijuana 
for adults over the age of 21.

However, the proposal would not allow people to use marijuana in 
public or operate a vehicle after smoking. Landlords could prohibit 
its use on their property. And there would still be no legal way for 
people to obtain marijuana - selling it will still be banned.

And, no matter what Portland voters say next month, marijuana use 
will still be illegal under federal law, which classifies pot as 
being in the same group as heroin.

Thomas said she decided to step forward publicly about her marijuana 
use - essentially admitting to illegal activity - to combat the fear 
and misconception about marijuana. She said her habit is known and 
accepted by her employer and her more conservative friends.

Even so, speaking publicly about her marijuana use carries some social risks.

"I don't think anyone wants to be labeled for the vices they have," 
Thomas said, adding that for some the vice might be gambling or 
drinking or sex. "That's the most difficult thing about coming out."

She is also stepping forward because of her son. "I don't want my son 
growing up and thinking I'm a criminal," she said.


The Portland vote comes as attitudes toward legalizing marijuana are 
rapidly changing nationwide, according to a national survey released 
by the Pew Research Center in April. More than half  52 percent  of 
1,501 American adults surveyed now support legalizing marijuana. 
That's up from just 12 percent in 1969, when marijuana use was 
associated with hippies and bohemians.

Pew found that support for legalizing marijuana has jumped 19 
percentage points in the past decade, including 11 points in the last 
three years alone. And attitudes are shifting among all ages, 
political parties, races and genders.

The younger the adult, the stronger the support. For example, 65 
percent of Millennials  people born since 1980 who are now between 18 
and 32  support the legalization of marijuana.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, baby boomers - those 50 and 
older who grew up during the counterculture revolution of the late 
1960s and 1970s - have been all over the map when it comes to legalization.

In 1978, 47 percent of boomers favored legalization. That support 
plummeted to 17 percent when President Ronald Reagan was in office. 
Now, half of boomers support legalization.

The only age groups that don't support legalization are members of 
the Silent Generation (born from 1925-1945) and Greatest Generation 
(1901-1924). Their support comes in at 32 percent and 14 percent, respectively.

Timmi Sellers of Portland, a 64-year-old registered nurse, stopped 
smoking marijuana in the 1980s when she had children.

However, Sellers supports legalizing marijuana for adults and 
believes the drug is beneficial to combat anxiety and stress, even 
though smoking it can be harmful. Now that her two daughters are 
adults, Sellers said she would like to experiment with marijuana again.

Her husband, Rory, is a 65-year-old computer programmer who smokes 
marijuana when it is available, especially when watching movies or 
doing certain creative projects. He prefers marijuana over alcohol. 
"Alcohol is not intellectually interesting," he says.

"We want it to be legal so we can enjoy it and not break the law," 
Rory Sellers said.

Authors of a recent Brookings Institution report concluded that fewer 
people view marijuana as a gateway drug - one that leads to addiction 
to more dangerous drugs. And, they wrote, an increasing number of 
Americans doubt the government's ability to enforce marijuana laws, 
similar to the way Americans regard the failed enforcement of alcohol 
during Prohibition.

Seventy-two percent of adults surveyed believe that enforcing 
marijuana costs more than it's worth. And 77 percent believe 
marijuana has legitimate medical uses.

Marijuana legalization is a rare example of an issue that enjoys 
support across the political spectrum, according to the Brookings report.

Moderates and liberals support legalization, while conservatives 
believe legalization should be taken up at the state level, even if 
they personally have a negative view of the drug, the report said. 
Meanwhile, 43 percent of Republicans reported past use of marijuana, 
compared to 47 percent of Democrats.

"In an area when the attitudes of so many Americans on so many issues 
are driven by party preferences and ideological leanings, marijuana 
legalization is a partial exception, displaying a significant degree 
of ideological and partisan crossover," they wrote.

For example, 60 percent of Republicans surveyed said marijuana should 
be illegal. Meanwhile, 59 percent of Democrats favored legalization 
and 60 percent of independents favored legalization.

the COLORADO template

Portland's referendum is being promoted by the Marijuana Policy 
Project, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., that 
was instrumental in legalization efforts in Denver and later in the 
entire state of Colorado. The group also helped draft Maine's medical 
marijuana law.

Maine is one of 11 states that has legalized the use of medicinal 
marijuana and decriminalized marijuana possession, making possession 
of small amounts a civil offense rather than a criminal one. While 
Maine is among the more pro-marijuana states, it is still following 
the leaders.

Last year, voters in both Washington and Colorado voted to legalize 
the recreational use of marijuana statewide. Supporters in Washington 
celebrated their victory by openly smoking in the presence of police officers.

Last month, the Justice Department announced that it would not sue 
those states over plans to tax and regulate pot sales for adults, as 
long as the states adhere to federal priorities, such as preventing 
drugged driving and keeping marijuana away from kids and off the black market.

Maine has now been identified as one of 10 states targeted by the 
Marijuana Policy Project for either statewide legislation or a 
statewide vote to legalize recreational use of marijuana, the group's 
executive director, Rob Kampia, has said.

Kampia said Portland - if voters approve the referendum next month - 
could play the same role Denver did during Colorado's legalization efforts.

Denver voted in 2005 to remove all legal penalties for possession by 
adults. In 2012, the state voted to legalize the drug.

"We look at Maine as being on a similar track as Colorado, only here 
we hope the trajectory will be three years rather than eight," Kampia said.

Maine author and filmmaker Crash Barry has high hopes that will happen.

The 45-year-old Barry, who has authored three books and writes a 
column for the Bollard, grows his own marijuana for medicinal 
purposes - chronic pain from being a demolition worker operating a 
jackhammer in Washington County.

"Hopefully when folks realize the Portland law won't cause the 
downfall of society, the statewide movement will gain even more 
momentum," said Barry, who lives in eastern Oxford County. "My 
biggest concern is that Maine's legalization efforts focus on 
ensuring local marijuana growers benefit economically, rather than 
allowing big business to capitalize on what has always been a 
traditional seasonal Maine industry."


Police say they will continue enforcing state drug laws even if 
Portland voters pass the ordinance, suggesting the vote will have 
more of a political impact than a legal one.

But, except for those warnings, there appears to be no organized 
opposition to legalizing marijuana in Portland.

Most of the criticism has focused on the impact the political 
campaign - the central message is that marijuana is safer than 
alcohol, and it's plastered on city buses and bus shelters - could 
have on teenagers. Youth advocates, such as 21 Reasons, argue this 
messaging reduces the youth perception of risk when it comes to 
marijuana, which has been proven to lead to increases in use. 
Marijuana, in turn, is damaging to developing brains, they say.

Dr. Mark Publicker, a specialist in addiction medicine who previously 
fought against the state's medical marijuana law, said that the 
absence of any organized opposition shouldn't be construed as support 
for legalizing marijuana.

"There are extremely well-funded organizations nationally that are 
able to focus a great deal of money, influence and advocacy into a 
state like Maine and that's what has happened," Publicker said. "This 
time people have thrown in the towel."

Publicker said attempts by marijuana proponents to present marijuana 
as a safer alternative to alcohol are based on a false assumption 
that those who smoke marijuana will not drink. "Of course, they're 
going to do both," he said.

Publicker also believes that, as with other drugs, between 10 percent 
and 15 percent of marijuana users will become addicted and that 
legalizing it will only increase the total number of those addicted.

Meanwhile, police have no way of testing a driver's marijuana 
intoxication levels, as they can with alcohol. Publicker also fears 
that more people - including children - will be exposed to secondhand 
marijuana smoke, which is not only unhealthful but can make others high.

"There's no such thing as secondhand drinking," he said.

Conversely, several groups are lining up in support of the measure. 
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine supports legalization 
here - and statewide - as a way to reduce incarceration rates.

And the NAACP of Maine supports legalization, because those 
incarceration rates are higher among blacks than whites.

Citing 2010 statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 
July, the NAACP of Maine said blacks in Maine are twice as likely as 
whites to be arrested for marijuana possession. In Cumberland County, 
blacks are 1.4 times more likely to be arrested, but in York County, 
blacks are five times more likely to be arrested.

The Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine also supports legalization, 
saying it will allow patients who cannot afford the doctor's 
recommendation now required for medicinal use to legally use it as medicine.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom