Another swing and miss for the citizens of Maine who favor legalization of recreational cannabis this week. Unfortunately, lawmakers showed the public that they are not going to support drug policy reform without a fight.
Last week, Maine legislators shot down LD1380, which was a bill by Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) that would have put the decision to legalize recreational marijuana up for the public vote. The real tragedy here was that it lost 98 to 45, more than two thirds majority. It shows that we have a long way to go before cannabis freedom is accepted by the Maine state legislature. However, all hope is not lost as a handful of pro-pot organizations are collecting signatures to put the question up for a statewide vote in 2016.
I strongly suspect that a reason this bill was voted down was the messy legislative history of medical marijuana in the state. The decision was originally made in 1999 and has had a steady stream of re-entries to the ballot box since then because the initiative was not properly written. A legitimate fear from detractors of marijuana reform is that this same problem may repeat itself. However, Rep. Russell's bill was written well. LD1380 was written to mimic the laws in place regulating alcohol and has very specific details for a regulatory structure designed to avoid post-referendum changes and maintain a sensible framework for reform in the years to follow.
What bothers me the most about this entire rotten situation turned out was the objections from other legislators that the bill should be rejected because of a fickle public. The preposterous rationale was that the people don't know what they want, so lets take the decision away from them. If anything, a decision on legalizing cannabis put in the hands of the people would make more sense than leaving it in the hands of a bunch of slimy bureaucrats. It was also said that if the voters wanted to legalize marijuana and the legislators passed a bill legalizing marijuana, they would essentially be cutting the voters off at the pass, and that it would in fact be better to simply carry out a citizen’s initiative. This is another foolish excuse from government officials too craven to simply do the right thing.
In spite of Maine's inaction, America’s viewpoint on cannabis reform is clear. Four states already have legal, recreational use in place with many more decriminalizing, legalizing for medical use, or otherwise relaxing restrictions on the plant. I believe that Maine residents are ready, willing, and able to end marijuana prohibition in the near future, despite the hesitancy from anti-legalization groups and the lawmakers to pass any bills at this time. Those on the wrong side of history cannot stop this freight train. The momentum is clearly against the drug warriors. They may be able to cling onto their illicit power for a little while longer, but it is slipping away for them. I just hope that my state of Maine is a leader in achieving Peace on our Streets, and our legislators stop dragging their feet on this important issue.