Governor LePage Administration and Major Maine Health Organizations Oppose Marijuana Legalization Bills

On Wednesday, a large coalition of leading behavioral health, medical, and public health organizations testified in opposition to LD 1380 and LD 1401, bills that would legalize recreational marijuana in Maine

AUGUSTA – Despite efforts of marijuana legalization advocates to spin marijuana legalization as inevitable, a large coalition of organizations joined forces to strongly oppose two bills that would legalize recreational marijuana in Maine. Wednesday saw a hearing for LD 1380 sponsored by Representative Diane Russell (D-Portland) and LD 1401 Representative Mark Dion. Both of these bills would have paved the way for a commercialized marijuana market in Maine that would increase youth access to the drug, while driving up social costs.

Many leading medical, behavioral health, and public health organizations provided testimony opposing the measures. Organizations included the Maine Public Health Association, Maine Medical Association, Maine Association of Substance Abuse Programs, Maine Association of School Nurses, the Maine chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Maine chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The bills were also opposed by the Governor’s office with compelling testimony provided by Holly Lusk.  In her testimony she laid out the costs of marijuana legalization to youth and society.  The Governor’s office was joined by the Department of Public Safety, the Maine CDC, Maine DEA, and the Maine Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services.

Testimony in opposition of legalization also came from a licensed drug and alcohol counselor working in York Schools.  She was joined by four youth from York High School who testified about some of the impacts they’ve seen with friends and peers, including how it compromises their ability to succeed in school.  They argued that marijuana legalization would only put more of their peers at risk.  Testimony from parents and a young man in recovery was also provided.  The balance of testimony was overwhelmingly tipped towards opposing the legalization bills.  Common themes were the threats to public health and public safety, and also the cautionary tale emerging from Colorado.  A key figure cited was the fact that Colorado went from 14th in the nation for youth use of marijuana in 2006 to 3rd in 2013 after legalization.

Tina Pettingill, MPH, executive director of the Maine Public Health Association adds “we are extremely concerned about legalizing recreational use of a product that has been proven to be addictive and harmful, especially to our youth. Evidence from other states and countries that have legalized recreational use of marijuana demonstrate that if Maine decides to go this route, we will quickly experience negative public health and societal costs such as an increase in marijuana use in all age groups, a dramatic increase in crashes and fatalities and a jump in ER visits and hospital stays”

Testimony was also provided by Chair of the Lewiston School Committee, Jim Handy. In his testimony, Handy pushes back against the notion that marijuana legalization is inevitable. “Lewiston voters overwhelmingly rejected a marijuana legalization ordinance in the 2014 election. Lewiston voters knew that increasing youth access to marijuana was not right for the city. They agreed that it was in conflict with community values around education.”

Scott Gagnon, Director of SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) Maine agrees., “Ultimately, we know that the majority of Maine voters hold these same values of education and healthy communities for our kids. The massive turnout in opposition to these bills just speaks to that. Today you had the leading medical and public health voices of Maine definitively lay out the case for why marijuana legalization would harm our state. The science on this is clear and unquestionable.”

Representatives of the coalition will return for the Thursday work session for the two bills. All signs point to an uphill climb for passage of the bills. The coalition expects to pivot from this success and to continue the work of community education while also soliciting input to craft a public-health approach to marijuana policy as an alternative to legalization. “Our opposition to these bills should not be interpreted as support for the status quo.” Gagnon remarks. “We strongly believe we need to look at drug policy reforms that don’t involve creating a commercial marijuana market. Crafting that kind of policy proposal is the work that will be ahead for us this summer.”

Scott M. Gagnon, MPP, PS-C

About Scott M. Gagnon, MPP, PS-C

Scott M. Gagnon, MPP, PS-C is a Certified Prevention Specialist and is the Director of Operations at AdCare Educational Institute of Maine, Inc. He currently serves on the Maine Substance Abuse Services Commission as well as the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, Center for Substance Abuse Prevention National Advisory Council. Scott volunteers as the Chair of the marijuana policy education and advocacy group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine and is the current Board President of the Maine Council on Problem Gambling. Scott also serves as a Co-chair of the Prevention & Harm Reduction task force of the Maine Opiate Collaborative, the effort convened by U.S. Attorney Thomas E Delahanty, II to address Maine's growing opiate and addiction crisis. Scott is the recipient of the 2015 Maine Public Health Association's Ruth S. Shaper Memorial Award and 2015 Healthy Androscoggin Will Bartlett Award and is also the 2013 recipient of the Maine Alliance to Prevent Substance Abuse Prevention Award.