Being on the ground, gathering signatures in York, South Portland and Lewiston, I have talked to hundreds of Maine voters. Given the topic – marijuana legalization – you can probably imagine the diverse reactions I get from people. Thankfully, the majority of interactions are positive, as more and more people see the benefits of ending marijuana prohibition. However, some people are still opposed to legalization and buy into the government’s hyperbole over the last 80 years of marijuana prohibition.
I would like to share some of the marijuana myths I encounter most frequently, and offer some facts in an attempt to dispel them.
Myth 1: Legalization will be bad for teenagers – By and large, this is the most common argument I hear, probably because this is the number one argument put forth by those working to maintain marijuana prohibition. The truth is, our existing laws have done nothing to keep teens safe and have forced marijuana into an uncontrolled underground market where dealers don’t ask customers for ID and could have other more harmful substances available. Regulating marijuana would allow authorities to know who is selling it, where they’re selling it, when, and to whom. It appears to be working in Colorado. Usage rates among the state’s high school students have trended downward from 2009 to 2013, according to state and federal surveys, and it was during this time period that Colorado began regulating medical marijuana (2010) and made marijuana legal for adult use (2012).
Myth 2: Marijuana is too harmful for adults to use – Whether people think marijuana use causes psychosis, or severely damages the lungs, the belief lingers that marijuana is too dangerous for adults to use. But every objective study done on marijuana has found that it poses less harm than alcohol to the consumer and society. It’s science, folks – marijuana is less addictive than alcohol, less toxic and doesn’t make users violent or angry. It is irrational to punish adults who simply want to use the safer substance. Not to mention the vast array of therapeutic benefits marijuana provides for millions of adults. So why are alcohol and tobacco acceptable for adults to use but not marijuana?
Myth 3: Marijuana is a gateway drug – The “Gateway Theory” purports that if someone uses marijuana they will move on to harder drugs and eventually end up strung out on hard drugs and unemployed. The fact is, this theory has been debunked for some time. A White House-commissioned study by the Institute of Medicine in 1999 found that marijuana “does not appear to be a gateway drug to the extent that it is the cause or even that it is the most significant predictor of serious drug abuse; that is, care must be taken not to attribute cause to association.” The real “gateway” is the underground market. By forcing marijuana consumers to purchase marijuana from drug dealers instead of licensed, inspected business owners, we are increasing the probability they will be exposed to more dangerous substances.
The majority of the Board of Selectman in York seem to buy into these myths as they robbed York voters of the chance to make marijuana legal for responsible adults to possess. They refused to place our petition on the ballot, even after we gathered all the required signatures and followed the city’s charter process for citizen initiatives. Fortunately, Lewiston and South Portland have taken a different approach, and have placed our question on their November ballots. Hopefully, voters in these two communities will vote for a more rational marijuana policy – one based on science, not fear.