2014-06-13 / Letters

Don’t let in clouds

To the editor:

Recently, the South Portland City Council unanimously approved a resolution opposing marijuana legalization. This naïve and dangerous decision arose from fear and misunderstanding, and seems grossly out of step with community sentiment. Last year, I was involved in Portland’s legalization effort, in which more than twothirds of voters decided in favor of legalizing marijuana possession by adults older than 21. This year, I am a Senate candidate for District 29. I have spoken about this issue to hundreds of voters on both sides of the bridge, and the council meeting debate seemed almost intentionally focused away from the real issue.

Most voters are in favor of marijuana legalization not because they want to get it for themselves, but because they don’t think the social cost of marijuana is worth the cost of prohibition. It’s simple economics; they’re sick of wasting resources on something they don’t fear enough to justify the expenditure.

This is true in spite of the fact that there’s a lot of money working to keep them afraid. The top special interest groups lobbying to keep marijuana illegal are:

  •  Police unions
  •  Private prison corporations
  •  Alcohol and tobacco companies
  •  Pharmaceutical corporations

These are the industries manipulating concerned parents into doing what’s actually worse for kids. On the other side of the issue are a few groups of citizens who can’t stand the waste. When you look at the roots of the conflict, when you see past the manipulated paranoia, you see just another case of citizens versus industry, with propaganda heavily skewed to the industrial side. I’d imagine that might seem familiar to this council. Still, the council fell for it, with each official taking an opportunity for a headshake and a passionate statement about protecting the children.

Guess what, neighbors: marijuana really is bad for kids. I’ve not heard anyone argue otherwise. That’s not the issue. It stunts growing brains, just like alcohol does. And, like with alcohol, some kids are going to try and get their hands on it. That’s true whether or not it’s legal. The question is whether those kids who do try to get it will be going to a store with a license or to a drug dealer. Drug dealers don’t check I.D.

In my life I’ve known a handful of people who turned to hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin. Each and every one of them started with Coca-cola. Why do they call marijuana a gateway drug? Because the illicit trade in marijuana fuels an entire underground, criminal industry, providing the first exposure to a world that most people curious about marijuana would never see otherwise. It serves as a gateway only because first they defined it as illegal.

A few councilors stated that marijuana legalization would be like condoning its use by children. Apparently, the council feels teenagers care what it thinks. Talking to kids about drugs is every parent’s job, and the city’s resolution will have no impact.

I have a 13-year-old daughter, and we have talked about substance abuse, including marijuana. She knows that marijuana is dangerous to developing brains, and that we, her parents, would never tolerate her using marijuana. I’m confident that she knows enough to have no interest in experimenting. Kids whose parents do not talk to them about drugs are more likely to use drugs. Currently (and, if the council has its way, perpetually), kids without parental guidance are punished twice, first with brain damage, and then by the courts. While no teenager can be expected to look to the city council as an ethical or moral compass, the message of an arrest comes through clearly: they are criminals who belong in the shadows and in the jails.

Friends and neighbors, we already did this. Right here. Or, at least, across the bridge they did.

Remember hearing about Neal Dow, Prohibition, and Al Capone? Prohibition wasn’t repealed because everyone suddenly forgot that alcohol had caused problems, or decided alcohol was a miracle cureall. They simply realized that the costs of Prohibition were too high. They figured out there was a better way.

Now we have Mexican cartels and we lead the world in percentage of people incarcerated. Have special interests so clouded the issue with scare tactics that we’re no longer capable of figuring it out?

Mark D. Diehl
Cape Elizabeth

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