Pubdate: Thu, 26 Dec 2013
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2013 Bangor Daily News Inc.
Author: Jen Lynds


FORT KENT, Maine - Earlier this month, the possession of marijuana for
nonmedical use became legal in Portland. This, and other sporadic
discussions about marijuana legalization in Maine, has shifted the
focus of an Aroostook County-based organization that works to curb
substance abuse among young people.

Now, besides teaching youth about the dangers of drunk driving, they
are paying more attention to how marijuana can impair motorists when
they get behind the wheel.

Michelle Plourde Chasse, Community Voices project manager, said in the
past, Community Voices and similar groups have focused on alcohol when
talking about impaired driving prevention over the past two or three

This year, they decided to change.

With marijuana in the spotlight, she said that law enforcement and
community members are questioning what effect marijuana legalization
in Maine would have on the prevalence of marijuana-impaired driving.

"I think that most people would recognize that someone drugged behind
the wheel is just as dangerous as someone who has been drinking," said
Plourde Chasse. "Reaction times are slower, you are braking slower,
you are not as quick to act, you are not as apt to pay attention
behind the wheel. It can be dangerous. But its not something that you
read a whole lot about. You read a lot about drunk driving, but not
about drivers impaired by marijuana."

Community Voices is a coalition supported by SAD 27 in Fort Kent,
Healthy Maine Partnerships Power of Prevention and Healthy Aroostook,
with funding from the Maine Office of Substance Abuse and Mental
Health Services.

According to Maine Department of Transportation data collected in 2009
and 2010, the most recent data available, the drug class that includes
marijuana was ranked as the No. 1 drug found in impaired driving cases
in which a drug recognition expert was consulted.

Plourde Chasse said that she was not surprised by this, and believes
that many young people do not believe that marijuana is harmful or can
be be dangerous.

According to the 2013 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey, which was
released Dec. 17, nearly 52 percent of high school teens said the
regular use of marijuana carried little to no risk. That's up from
43.9 percent in 2011 and 39.1 percent in 2009.

Caribou Police Chief Michael Gahagan said that of all of the drugged
driving arrests in Caribou, the majority have at least marijuana in
their system, sometimes along with other drugs.

"Most of the time, marijuana users turn to more hard-core drugs," he
said. "In my professional career, I have never arrested a drug user
that hadn't started with marijuana."

Gahagan said that he is also concerned about marijuana being
legalized, and agrees that more people are relaxed in their attitude
about the drug.

"I really do think it's a gateway drug," he said. "And there is a kind
of culture out there among young people that marijuana is 'no big
deal.' People don't realize that if they go out and get into a car
accident and kill someone and are found to have drugs in their system,
there can be serious consequences."

Presque Isle Police Chief Matt Irwin agreed. He said that the
department does not have a system to track down many accidents are
caused by drivers impaired by marijuana, but said that it is not
uncommon to have drivers who are found to under the influence of
alcohol to also have the drug in their system, or to have marijuana in
the car with them.

"Marijuana is definitely a gateway drug," he said. "There is nothing
good that can come from making it legal."  
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D