By Rep. Mark Dion
Here in Maine, competing ballot initiatives will bring the question of marijuana legalization to a confusing vote in November of 2016. While both initiatives contain positive and negative elements, there are compelling, common-sense reasons to submit the issue first to the Legislature and then to voters in 2015, rather than waiting for 2016. My decision to sponsor, “An Act to Allow for and Regulate the Adult Use of Cannabis,” is based on common sense and a conservative approach to the system that is already working in Maine.
My bill allows for extensive, transparent citizen input via the legislative process with public hearings and work sessions, and requires a citizens’ vote in November of 2015, while avoiding the problems, confusion, and delays which would accompany competing ballot measures in 2016.
Four states and the District of Columbia have moved forward on this issue. They are reaping tax benefits, enjoying increased job creation, and seeing a decline in teen marijuana use, drug related crime, and traffic fatalities. Mainers should not have to wait another two years to reap similar benefits.
JOBS, TAXES, THE ECONOMY
Focus groups and polling show that Mainers are overwhelmingly concerned about the state of our economy, tax rates and job creation. Polling also shows that Mainers significantly support the legalization of marijuana, especially in a highly controlled environment.
My bill will put a thoughtful, inclusive adult-use legalization plan before Maine voters in 2015. With citizen approval, our state could begin seeing the benefits of additional job creation, economic stimulus, increased tax revenue, and better protections against teen use as early as third quarter 2016.
BUILD ON A SUCCESSFUL FRAMEWORK
For nearly 5 years, Maine has quietly offered a legal, regulated distribution system to qualifying medical patients, via the eight state-regulated dispensaries. These businesses employ nearly 100 Mainers and provide legal access to roughly 15,000 Maine residents, via sensible, robust regulation and inventory control.
This existing medical cannabis dispensary program offers a successful framework upon which to build a safe, regulated adult-use distribution network. The bill allows flexibility so that the regulated industry can grow in a measured way.
COMMON SENSE, COMMUNITY-BASED
This legislation will start slow and allow only a limited number of adult-use cannabis producers and retailers. In addition to state-level regulatory oversight, my bill provides for local control with each municipality having the right to decide whether such facilities are allowed in that municipality.
The legislative process is designed to allow for input from all Mainers who feel strongly about an issue. By partnering this process with a 2015 referendum, every citizen has the opportunity to weigh in and then cast a vote on this historic legislation. Together, we can craft and implement a responsible adult use policy that works for Maine and serves as a model for other states.
Rep. Mark Dion is serving his third term in the Maine House of Representatives. He is House chair of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. He previously served on the Energy Committee and as House chair of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. Dion, an attorney with a practice in Portland, was sheriff of Cumberland County for 12 years and an officer in the Portland Police Department for 21 years. He has been an advocate on mental health and substance abuse policy, community correction practices and inter-agency partnerships involving public health and safety.