With the announcement this week that a second group is seeking to put legalized recreational marijuana on an upcoming statewide ballot, the time has come to ask what a homegrown plan for legalization in Maine might look like.

Legalize Maine, a newly formed political action committee, on Wednesday unveiled a proposal, aimed at the 2016 election, that the group says would put small-scale Maine growers and the burgeoning medical marijuana industry in the state ahead of out-of-state corporate interests. The Marijuana Policy Project, a national group responsible for getting legalization questions on recent municipal ballots in Lewiston, Portland and South Portland, is working on a proposal, as well, with the goal of gaining a place on the ballot in two years.

That two separate marijuana advocacy groups are seeking to put initiatives on the ballot shows that the issue is more complex than a simple up-or-down vote on legalization.

Legalization advocates in large part argue two points: That the war on drugs, particularly as it pertains to marijuana, is a waste of time and money, and that the state is missing out on a significant source of tax revenue by relegating pot to the black market.

But those ideas are sometimes in competition. That leaves a lot of questions to be answered even before the social costs of legalization brought up by opponents are added to the equation.

Take for instance the question of who would be allowed to grow and sell marijuana. Policies that favor large-scale growers likely would bring the highest amount of tax revenue into state coffers, and strict regulation would make sure consumers get a safe, uniform product.


However, there are concerns that the presence of a large, for-profit marijuana industry leads to irresponsible use of the drug. It is the same model that is embraced by the tobacco and alcohol industries, both of which rely on heavy users to make a profit.

Instead, the state could consider a “grow and give” policy, such as the one passed recently in Washington, D.C., which allows residents to grow marijuana and give it away, but not sell it. Distribution also could occur through not-for-profit organizations or cooperatives. But those scenarios come with downsides, as well.

There are also questions about how to deal with marijuana-infused edibles, a problem that is vexing officials in Colorado, where recreational marijuana was legalized in 2012.

And there are legitimate concerns about the diversion of legal marijuana to underage people, and about the increase in drivers impaired by marijuana, among other health and public safety questions.

All of that, and more, has to be taken into consideration when drafting state policy on marijuana. And with two proposals for legalization possibly soon to be on the ballot, and public attitudes on marijuana trending toward legalization, the time to do that is now.

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