Why two former cops are trying to legalize marijuana in Maine

Banglor Daily News By Mark Dion and Kevin J. Battle


Why are we, two cops-turned-legislators, trying to legalize pot? Because it’s going to happen, and we want to make sure the approach Maine takes is safe, successful, regulated and taxed. The time to legalize is now so our representatives don’t fall behind the voters. We must be proactive, not reactive.

Nationally, momentum is building in favor of a better approach to marijuana than our current, outdated laws allow. Locally, a recent poll found that 65 percent of Maine voters agree; they believe adult-use marijuana should be legal if it is strictly controlled and regulated in a manner similar to alcohol.

With 59 years of collective law enforcement experience, we have a bill before the Legislature to legalize access for all adults in 2015. As former officers, we know our current approach to marijuana is not working. It is time to bring this plant into the light of day, regulate its distribution, tax it appropriately and work collectively to surface this hidden economy.

We believe legalization will be a boon to our state if it is done thoughtfully, which is why we support the bill, LD 1401. It has exactly what Mainers want: strict regulations to protect against underage use and abuse, with a flat 15 percent tax on sales.

LD 1401 is the best solution for many reasons.

First, it expands access to thousands of Mainers suffering from debilitating health conditions that don’t currently qualify under our limited medical marijuana law. Despite medical marijuana’s success in providing comfort for patients with cancer, glaucoma and other ailments, many are denied access to marijuana’s benefits. Conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Tourette’s syndrome and obsessive compulsive disorder are left out. This bill means Mainers over age 21 can access the therapeutic benefits without the frustrating process of trying to change existing medical marijuana laws.

The passage of this bill would let cops and courts focus on actual crimes. As officers, we know Maine’s real drug problem isn’t pot. Forty-five years ago, the federal government classified marijuana among the most dangerous substances, saying it had “no medical benefits.” Law enforcement was tasked with policing a plant and criminalizing its users. Now we must admit to the fact that this approach isn’t working.

And we would be remiss not to mention the economic benefits that legalization would bring. Mainers are buying and selling marijuana illegally every day. This underground, untaxed, unregulated economy benefits few.

Our bill creates up to 1,000 jobs at newly established dispensaries, cultivation facilities, production facilities, testing labs and ancillary businesses. It’s projected to increase state revenue by $26.7 million annually. LD 1401 dedicates a portion of this revenue to enhanced public safety, as well as education and prevention programs aimed at youth.

When it comes to a regulatory framework, LD 1401 builds upon Maine’s successes. Our medical marijuana program was ranked first in the nation by Americans for Safe Access. Maine’s dispensaries have been held accountable for meeting stringent and thorough regulations since 2009. These rules provide us with a template for safely regulating legal adult use in a manner that minimizes diversion to youth or to the black market.

Our bill will not allow marijuana retail outlets on every corner. It mandates a slow start in the first years, with 20 retail locations permitted. This is a stark contrast to other bills being considered in Maine’s legislature that would allow up to 500 retail locations.

We wrote this bill with input from legislators, law enforcement, businesses, health care professionals and industry experts. It’s a clean proposal that will get a full committee hearing and will face a series of votes in the Legislature. If it survives the legislative process, Mainers will have the final say through a referendum vote on the November 2015 ballot.

The question of whether legalization will happen seems to be answered. The debate now turns to the questions of how and when. We believe there is no reason to wait. Let’s listen to the will of the people. Let’s create jobs, stimulate the economy and benefit from a new tax revenue stream. Let’s remove marijuana from the criminal justice arena and create a public health strategy to ensure that marijuana is well regulated and that our youth do not have easy access to it.

Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, is serving his third term in the Maine House. He has 32 years of law enforcement experience, is a graduate of the University of Maine School of Law and is practicing law at his own firm in Portland. Rep. Kevin J. Battle, R-South Portland, is serving his first term in the House. He is a 27-year law enforcement veteran with a military service background.