Legislators do listen

Dear Editor,

The Maine House of Representatives made big news at the end of June: it soundly defeated a bill to legalize retail marijuana, 98-45.

This is significant for two reasons. First, the margin of defeat was a full 27 points greater than the first time Maine turned down a pot legalization bill in 2013. Second, the majority of House Democrats voted against the bill. Legalizing marijuana was a 2014 Maine Democratic Party platform plank.

You have to wonder what changed so many minds.

According to Scott Gagnon, director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine, at least one deciding factor was the situation in Colorado and Washington, where the development of a “Big Tobacco”-like industry is becoming more evident. Gagnon also credits the strong opposition of the governor’s office and several important state agencies, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics.

More important, he says, was the heartfelt testimony from counselors, parents, high school students, and one brave young former addict. It is one thing to see a graph showing how increased availability and reduced perception of harm leads to increased use by teenagers, or to hear that 1 in 6 teens who try marijuana will become addicted. But it’s more moving to hear what those numbers really mean, from the people who have been there, done that, and felt the harm.

In the 2015 Vermont legislative session, a bill to legalize retail marijuana was introduced but did not get a hearing in either the House or Senate. Perhaps our legislators were too busy with more pressing matters. But perhaps it shows that Vermont and Maine have more than location in common.

I believe Vermont’s legislators are also listening to the news from Colorado, the strong opposition voiced by health professionals, and the very personal stories of the Vermonters who have already been harmed by marijuana.

Debby Haskins, executive director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM-VT.)

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