Pubdate: Tue, 25 Nov 2014
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2014 Bangor Daily News Inc.
Author: Scott Gagnon
Note: Scott Gagnon is the volunteer Director for Smart Approaches to 
Marijuana Maine and a substance abuse prevention professional serving 
Androscoggin County.


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.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom