Maine pot advocates using momentum for statewide legislation

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November 19, 2013, 9:54 pm
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(NECN: Amy Sinclair) - On election day, voters in Portland, Maine said "yes" to legalizing marijuana by a 2-to-1 margin. Now, marijuana advocates are using the momentum to push for the passage of statewide legislation.

And they're making the argument that legalizing pot would be good for kids and the economy.

"I want to build public schools across Maine" may seem like a strange opener for a press conference on marijuana, but bill sponsor Rep. Diane Russell of Portland knows getting legislators and constituents on board will require a multi-faceted approach.

And that approach includes an earmark for school construction in her bill.

"It's time to reclaim the tax revenue that's rightfully ours," said Russell.

The newly formed coalition that's pushing for statewide legalization says if marijuana were taxed and regulated like alcohol and cigarettes, Maine would see millions in additional revenue. Russell's bill would levy a 15 percent excise tax on growers and a 10 percent sales tax on consumers.

She estimates pot sales would raise $12-13 million a year.

"A wide open market would provide more jobs, more commerce, more tax receipts, and more business opportunities," said Jonathan Kaelin, who currently cultivates plants for medical marijuana patients.

Some of that money would be used to fund a public education campaign to teach Maine youth about the risks associated with using marijuana.

"Right now it's a free for all on school campuses because dealers don't ask for ID," said David Boyer, the state director for the Marijuana Policy Project

Retired Richmond school superintendent and coalition member Denny Gallaudet says legalizing pot would give educators more freedom to talk to students about the drug.

"It's just going to be more effective for educators to work with it in a non-criminal environment," he said. "Right now our hands are tied."

But many substance abuse prevention experts disagree. They say the evidence does not suggest that legalization and regulation curtail usage of controlled substances.

"The most prevalent drug kids use is alcohol, which which has been taxed and regulated for a very long time, so I'm not sure taxing marijuana will reduce access to marijuana at all," said Jo Morrisey, project director for 21 Reasons.

But Russell says one thing is clear.

"It's here," and she says she hopes state lawmakers capitalize on the public's growing acceptance of marijuana and find a way for the state to profit from it.

Tags: portland, Amy Sinclair, Marijuana Policy Project, Maine Portland ME legalized marijuana, Portland ME marijuana legalization, Maine marijuana advocates
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