"We believe that a one-size-fits-all-approach has not worked to protect our children," Russell said at a press conference in Portland. "It has not served our budget constraints. And it has not stemmed addiction. We believe it is time for a local approach with some Yankee ingenuity."
Russell's legislation would legalize the posession of small amounts of marijuana in Maine by adults over 21. It would also tax pot sales. Russell says that money could be used for a program discouraging marijuana use by youth, as well for other state needs, including school construction.
She said the vote in Portland sent a clear message.
"This was a clear rebuke of the current policy," Russell contends. "And it was a clear statement that people are ready to tax and regulate marijuana like the commodity that it already is."
Theodore Welton is a military veteran. He was working with a crew in Kandahar, Afghanistan, when they struck an underground power line, leaving Welton with recurring pain and nausea that he says he controls with marijuana.
"I'm stoned right now. And I'm not afraid to say it," Welton said. "I don't get off in the clouds anymore because I'm used to it. But it really takes care of my pain, takes care of my nausea. Allows me to present myself in a clear way."
Denny Gallaudet, the former president of Casco Northern Bank, is a retired school superintendent from Richmond. Gallaudet says those working wtih high school kids sense that the "war on drugs" approach isn't working. But he says specifics can be hard to nail down.
"The kids cannot talk to you, or deal with you, because the consequences in the school setting are very harsh for young people - suspension, and so on and so forth," Gallaudet said. "There are very few clinical studies on what works to help kids stop any addiction to, or predilection to, drugs. Because marijuana is illegal, the scientific community can't really study it carefully."
A group opposed to Russell's bill, called "Smart Approaches to Marijuana," says, in a press release, "It is counter to logic and experience to say that legalizing marijuana would lower rates of marijuana use among kids."
Russell's bill, LR 2329, would impose a 10 percent sales tax and a 15 percent excise tax on marijuana, with a minimum excise tax of $1.50 per gram. Under the measure, some of those funds would be allocated to preventing use of the drug among young people.
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