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Maine Lawmaker to Introduce Measure to Legalize Recreational Pot
11/14/2012   Reported By: Patty B. Wight

A Maine legislator is planning to introduce a bill in the upcoming session to legalize marijuana, not just for medical purposes, but for recreational use as well. Similar measures that would tax and regulate marijuana are expected to emerge in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Vermont as well. Two western states - Washington and Colorado - voted to legalize marijuana last week. For proponents, it's evidence that there is growing support for marijuana policy reform. But this isn't the first time legalizing marijuana has been attempted in Maine. And as Patty Wight reports, many are still opposed to the idea.

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Diane Russell is the legislator who will introduce a bill the next legislative session. She's entering her third term as a Democratic representative for Portland. The way Russell sees it, right now control of marijuana is in the hands of criminals.

"I think it's time to have a conversation about how we regulate this product," she says. "Right now it's in the black market. Children have easy access to it. And we need to stop that."

Russell says if marijuana is taxed and regulated, the revenues from sales and income taxes can be used to fund early childhood education and law enforcement. She says it will benefit law enforcement in other ways as well.

"Instead of spending our law enforcement money tracking down people who are growing marijuana plants, I'd like to see our law enforcement empowered to focus on the issues that are truly devastating communities - things like bath salts, things like domestic violence, things like drug diversion," Russell says.

But the chief of the Maine State Police, Robert Williams, doesn't see legalizing marijuana as a help to law enforcement.

"Alcohol has been legalized for many, many years, but yet its impact to some degree you could almost classify as devastating, if you take into account all the motor vehicle crashes that it causes, destruction of families from drinking and addictions," he says. "So would marijuana just become the new alcohol?"

This issue has come up before - in fact, just a little over a year ago, Rep. Russell introduced a bill to tax and regulate marijuana. It was voted down in committee and on the House floor.

Republican Rep. David Burns was on the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. He has the same reservations now as he did then. Burns, who is a retired state trooper, says marijuana is a so-called "gateway" drug.

"We have enough issues right now with substance abuse," he says. "In fact, we have a very serious problem in the state of Maine with substance abuse and addiction. And I don't believe, personally, that we need anything that's going to lead more in that direction."

Burns says he doubts the Legislature would support legalizing marijuana. But Robert Capecchi, from the Marijuana Policy Project, a national organIzation that supports legalizing marijuana, says he thinks it may no longer be considered political suicide to publicly support such a measure.

"You know, you saw that in Colorado this past Tuesday," he says. "Amendment 64 got more votes than President Obama did."

Capecchi contends that more and more Americans now see marijuana prohibition as a failed policy.

"If the goal of prohibition is to prevent use and abuse, which it should be, then arguably it doesn't meet those goals," he says. "So I think people are starting to wise up to the fact that it's time to try a different approach and try to find a new way forward when it comes to marijuana policy in this country."

Tomorrow, Capecchi will moderate a teleconference with Rep. Diane Russell and a legislator from Rhode Island, where both lawmakers will discuss their plans to introduce bills to tax and regulate marijuana.


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