On Tuesday, Maine voters will have the historic opportunity to eradicate marijuana prohibition. It has been a long, hard-fought battle that started all the way back in 1976 when Maine decriminalized the possession of marijuana in small amounts. A “yes” vote on Question 1 of Maine’s ballot would legalize the possession and use of cannabis by anyone 21-years-old and over. Question 1, also known as the Maine Marijuana Legalization Measure, aims to regulate and tax cannabis as an agricultural product, enacting a ten percent sales tax on marijuana products.
However, not everyone wants “Mainers” to enjoy legal access to regulated and taxed cannabis, including some of the state’s highest-ranking officials. Republican Governor Paul LePage, for example, has been very outspoken on cannabis legalization. The admitted former marijuana smoker has been spewing 1950’s-esque propaganda in the media, including an infamous 72-second video where he makes numerous false statements about marijuana that are either wildly overblown or fabricated completely.
It should go without saying that you should take everything Governor Paul LePage says with an iceberg-sized grain of salt, as he’s been known to make questionable statements in the past. But alas, people will listen to their state’s highest-ranking official, so let’s fact-check some of these claims by LePage and make sure everyone has valid information ahead of the vote on Question 1.
First, LePage kicks things off with a baseless claim about cannabis-related traffic fatalities. “Marijuana kills people on the highways. Traffic deaths in Colorado have increased dramatically,” stated Governor LePage.
LePage’s statement couldn’t be further from the truth.
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, marijuana legalization may actually be part of the solution. In Colorado and Washington State, where marijuana is already legalized for recreational use for adults over 21 years of age, the DPA found traffic fatality rates remained statistically consistent before and after cannabis legalization. It is important to note that both states had lower traffic fatality rates than they did 10 years prior, as well as rates lower than the national average.
Next, Gov. LePage moved on to the topic of potency, expressing, “Marijuana is three times stronger than it was in the 1980s.” While this may be the closest LePage gets to the truth in his whole statement, his rationale was way off-base. The potency of marijuana has improved over the course of the last few decades with the help of science and technology, but categorizing that fact as a negative is questionable.
The act of smoking itself causes the user to introduce a number of toxins and carcinogens into their lungs. Reducing the number of times a person needs to smoke to reach the desired effect is a step in the right direction. In many parts of the country, smoking is being phased out altogether with the increased popularity of vaporizing. Now, instead of smoking a number of joints throughout the day, one may be able to medicate themselves to the same degree with just a few “dabs” of highly-concentrated cannabis oil. This method of transforming oil to water vapor eliminates smoke from the equation completely; “dabbing” provides a much cleaner, safer experience even though the potency of the cannabis is much higher than traditional flower.
Gov. LePage then moved on to the prohibitionist “Greatest Hits” by bringing up the gateway drug theory.
“People addicted to marijuana are three times more likely to be addicted to heroin,” said LePage. “Heroin is already killing seven Mainers a week. We do not need to legalize another drug that could lead to more deaths.”
This theory has been used time and time again by the prohibitionist movement, yet still remains to be proven. Actually, new research suggests the contrary may be true, as access to medical marijuana reduces hospital admissions for opioid-related treatment by up to 35 percent. As far as the Governor’s claim that legalizing marijuana will lead to more deaths — also not true. According to an August study in JAMA Internal Medicine, 25 percent fewer individuals died from opioid overdoses in states with legalized medical marijuana between the years of 1999 and 2010. From the JAMA study:
…researchers hypothesize that in states where medical marijuana can be prescribed, patients may use pot to treat pain, either instead of prescription opiates, or to supplement them—and may thus require a lower dosage that is less likely to lead to a fatal problem.
LePage continued his fear-mongering by going after parents and animal owners, saying, “THC levels in marijuana snacks are so high they could kill children and pets.” This simply isn’t true, and while using the psychoactive component in marijuana is certainly not recommended for children, it’s important to note that it will not kill them. There have been zero deaths caused by marijuana over-intoxication in recorded human history.
As for pets, there is a tremendous amount of support for new research into whether or not marijuana is a safe therapeutic option. In our recent piece on this very subject, we showed that many vets, product manufacturers, and pet owners are experimenting for themselves with extremely positive results.
Attempting to hammer home his point that legal marijuana would harm Maine’s children, Gov. LePage claimed, “People will smoke marijuana in pot stores right next to schools, daycare centers, and churches.”
This is one of the most ludicrous claims we’ve seen, as Question 1 aims to regulate cannabis in a manner not dissimilar from tobacco or alcohol in Maine. Does the Governor’s worry extend to schools with nearby liquor and convenience stores that carry booze and cigarettes? This law represents a potentially massive windfall for Maine’s fiscal future. Tax revenue from legal marijuana sales would be injected into public school budget planning, homeless aide, infrastructure, and drug prevention programs, among other areas of need.
The proposed cannabis laws in Maine do not allow for public consumption, so it’s puzzling where this idea that people would be blazing out in the open on playgrounds originated. From Question 1: “It provides that the prohibitions and limitations on smoking tobacco products in specified areas as provided by law apply to smoking marijuana and that a person who smokes marijuana in a public place other than as governed by law commits a civil violation for which a fine of not more than $100 may be adjudged.”
If we’re to believe Gov. LePage’s dark and horrifying statements about legal cannabis, the future doesn’t seem bright for Mainers. Thankfully, other politicians in Maine were able to see the waves of change coming. Preparing for a possible approval to Question 1 in early September, city officials from Bangor, Maine were proactive in researching which legalization policies were effective in states like Colorado and Washington.
Should Question 1 pass in Maine, the next hurdle would then become regulation. Maine House Rep. Diane Russell spoke with reporter Jessie Miller-Gordon about what the future may hold for Maine’s marijuana landscape.
On protecting small business during a possible corporate influx: “Half of the ‘No on 1’ is because they’re afraid of this big business. I’m a liberal, I don’t want a Wal-Mart — or Weed-Mart. We are a city, and a state frankly, that has a vibrant microbrewery economy here. Anheuser-Busch still is able to do what it does, but nobody buys Anheuser-Busch here in Portland or in Maine, they buy the microbrews. I’d like to see a ‘microbud’ economy really sprout up, so to speak. Where ‘Big Marijuana’ concerns exist, and I agree about this, is when it is federalized. That’s where strong, smart regulations at the state level allow us to be able to convince our members of Congress to not preempt state law. That is going to be the magic fight.”
Russell added, “The Government’s job is to make sure we’re creating the space where adults can responsibly consume, where there are consequences if they don’t, that they’re not furnishing to children, and they’re able to know that their product is safe. Those are the roles of Government; tax it and regulate it.”
Cover Image Courtesy of PBS