Pubdate: Fri, 04 Nov 2016
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2016 Bangor Daily News Inc.
Author: John Morris


I've spent my 50-year career in public safety and the military trying
to protect and keep people safe. Some of the most challenging things I
have dealt with were not actions of individuals but the consequences
of political decisions. With Question 1, which would legalize
recreational marijuana, you get to decide whether this law goes into
effect. If it does, I can assure you the unintended consequences will
be many.

As a naval officer during the Vietnam War, I saw young men devolve
into addiction - first with marijuana and then with harder drugs such
as heroin. As Waterville police chief, I saw parents neglect their
children and watched as young people let their ambitions wallow in a
haze of marijuana smoke. As commissioner of public safety, which
includes Maine State Police, Maine Drug Enforcement Agency and Maine
fire marshal's office, I read reports almost daily about
marijuana-related incidents, crashes and crimes.

Among all the false claims made by the pro-legalization campaign,
advocates have said police officers need to spend less time going
after marijuana users and more time arresting serious criminals. Let's
be clear: Marijuana is already decriminalized in Maine. Offenders
receive a citation. They are not arrested for simple possession, and
marijuana possession is a very low priority for police officers.

State police and local law enforcement agencies already are focused on
the bigger fish - heroin, cocaine and crack dealers, violent criminals
and violent crime. Any assertion that officers are spending inordinate
time going after marijuana possessors is an attempt to mislead the
public. It just doesn't happen. Story continues below

I recently met with law enforcement and community leaders from three
states that have legalized marijuana. What we're seeing in states such
as Colorado that have legalized marijuana for recreational use and
retail sale does not bode well for Maine's prospects should Question 1

Since 2013, the state saw a 62 percent increase in the number of
marijuana-related traffic deaths and similar increases in the number
of drivers testing positive for marijuana use, according to a report
issued in September by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug
Trafficking Area. Law enforcement in Maine is not prepared for this
influx of marijuana-related traffic crashes. While state law
enforcement officers receive extensive training on alcohol impaired
driving, less than 10 percent have been trained to detect
marijuana-impaired drivers.

Supporters tout the supposed economic benefits, but about 62 percent
of Colorado municipalities have passed ordinances banning marijuana
businesses from their jurisdictions. Local communities have
overwhelmingly decided that the societal downsides far outweigh any
economic benefits.

Legalized marijuana attracts the wrong elements, too. Complaints about
the public consumption of marijuana between 2014 and 2015 increased 17
percent in the city of Boulder, for example. This tells us people
already are fed up with public displays of drug use. Maine needs to
attract young families, and this is not the kind of environment those
families want to provide for their children.

Additionally, marijuana legalization hits kids especially hard.
Accidental marijuana ingestion by Colorado children under age 12
increase about 50 percent between 2011 and 2014. Since Colorado
expanded its medical marijuana program in 2009, there has been a 22
percent increase in drug-related school suspensions and expulsions,
and 82 percent of school resource officers have experienced an
increase in student marijuana-related incidents.

Colorado now ranks first in the nation for marijuana use among 12- to
17-year-olds. To make matters worse, Question 1 would repeal the state
law prohibiting minor possession of marijuana for anyone under 21,
including teenagers and young children.

Colorado's emergency health care resources also have been stretched.
Consumption by children or inexperienced users, especially when
accidental or by highly concentrated edible products, has driven a 29
percent increase in emergency room visits between 2013 and 2014, a 38
percent increase in hospitalization related to marijuana between 2013
and 2014, and a 73 percent increase between 2013 and 2015 in calls to
poison control hotlines related to marijuana.

My role is not to tell Mainers how to vote. But it is important that
those with experience in public safety educate the public about what
the aftermath of marijuana legalization would look like. Beware of
one-sided portrayals of tax revenue, "marijuana tourism" and fewer
burdens on law enforcement. If pot is legalized, Mainers will see more
crime, crashes and traffic deaths and hospital visits by children that
will burden our health care and law enforcement systems.

John Morris is the commissioner of the Maine Department of Public
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