The Legislature on Wednesday put the final stamp on a bill to establish a recreational marijuana market in Maine, overriding the veto of Gov. Paul LePage and finally taking a step promised following the success of a citizen’s referendum in November 2016.

There is a lot of work left to be done, as the state must now write the regulatory rules for licensing, inspection, taxes and more, making it likely there won’t be any pot shops here until next spring. And even then, the work won’t be over — the marijuana market is large and complex, and there is little doubt that lawmakers will be asked to evaluate and perhaps change how it is structured as time goes on.

It is with that in mind that we address two claims put forward by opponents of the bill that require clarification.


The first, from Gov. LePage himself, says that there were “staggering increases” in fatal motor vehicle accidents in states with legal recreational marijuana.

It is true that there were increases in motor vehicle fatalities in Washington and Colorado in the years immediately following legalization, and those numbers received a lot of media attention when first revealed.

However, subsequent analysis has found no causal link between pot legalization and road deaths. The most recent, distributed by the nonpartisan and highly regarded National Bureau of Economic Research, found “little evidence that the total rate of traffic fatalities has increased significantly as a consequence of recreational marijuana legislation.”

The confusion comes from a rush to make simple a complex situation. Most of the statistics on fatalities come from post-accident tests, and because marijuana stays in a person’s system long after the intoxication has subsided, a positive test isn’t conclusive evidence that pot was a factor in the crash.

It may be that an increase in positive tests just means more people are using it — responsibly — following legalization, and so it’s turning up as a benign presence in more tests. After all, a drunk driver who causes an accident two days after smoking pot would show up as a positive, even if the drug had nothing to do with the accident.

This is hardly the last word, however, and policymakers should keep a close eye on how driver impairment is affected by laws on where and when marijuana can be used. But when they do make decisions, they should make them based on fact.


Which brings us to the words of Sen. Scott Cyrway, R-Benton. A former D.A.R.E. officer in Kennebec County, Cyrway said in a floor speech before Wednesday’s vote that legal marijuana would put children at risk of escalated drug use. He mentioned John D. Williams, who was charged this week with killing Cpl. Eugene Cole in Norridgewock, saying we’d see more drug problems like the one that appears to have destroyed Williams’ life.

Dozens of studies have been unable to find a link between marijuana use and the subsequent abuse of hard drugs. While it’s true that nearly all herion users started their drug use with marijuana, that’s misleading — the vast majority of people who smoke pot never progress to more illicit drugs, or even become regular pot users.

The truth about addiction is more complicated, and factors such as poverty, trauma, mental illness and genetics play a much bigger role than any individual substance. As seen in the overdose deaths in Maine, most people dealing with addiction are using more than one substance, suggesting that the need to escape or self-medicate is more important than whether someone tried a joint out behind the playground one day.

Instead of grabbing whatever headlines make your point, or rehashing old tropes out of “Reefer Madness,” we should focus on building a marijuana market that balances personal freedom with public safety.

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