2013-04-01 / Front Page

Forum weighs legalizing pot



50 show up at Bath gathering
BY LARRY GRARD Times Record Staff

BATH

If Mainers opt to legalize marijuana, the state must keep the retail price “artificially high,” the sponsor of a bill to legalize pot told a Bath audience Saturday.

Otherwise, said Rep. Dianne Russell, D-Portland, the drug could be too readily available, and fall into the hands of too many young people.

Russell addressed some 50 people during a City Hall public forum Saturday regarding her proposal to legalize marijuana. Her bill, co-authored by Rep. Aaron Libby, R-Waterboro, would restrict sale of the drug — which is already legal for certain medical uses in Maine — to people 21 and older.

“The cost in Colorado dropped sharply when it was legalized,” Russell said. “We must make sure the cost is artifically high.”

Sierra Frith and Alex McLean referred to an even higher source.

They walked into the auditorium holding a hand-made sign with words from Genesis 1:29- 31: “Then God said, ‘I give you every seedbearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground — everything that has the breath of life in it — I give every green plant for food.’ And it was so.”

Russell began with some statistics of her own, noting that 85 percent of high school seniors have easy access to marijuana. She quoted a story in Rolling Stone claiming Maine is among the top seven states expected to fully legalize pot.

“The train is coming,” Russell said, “and we have a responsibility to get ahead of this issue. Essentially, we would have control over the market. Right now, people go to drug dealers.”

Russell is consulting with David Boyer of Falmouth, state political director of the Marijuana Policy Project who came to the state last year to help with Ron Paul’s presidential campaign.

While Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry presented a somewhat different view, he did not state opposition to all of Russell’s statements.

“I like the caveat that it will go to referendum,” Merry said. “In order to make a rational decision, (voters) have to be informed.”

Merry disagreed with the notion that the state’s prisons are teeming with nonviolent drug offenders.

“I would counter that,” he said. “They’re filled with people who have committed crimes while under the influence of drugs, or who are searching for drugs. I’d like to debunk that kind of argument.”

Merry also differs with the notion that use of marijuana would diminish if pot became legal.

“The black market will remain,” he said. “When sales go up, access is more open. If they increase the tax, just grow it yourself.”

Meanwhile, Merry alleged the state’s current medical marijuana law is being abused.

“There’s an abuse of the law with people who have cards growing six plants,” he said. “They’re growing 60 or 70 plants, or even 100, and it’s not for personal use.”

The bill to legalize pot probably will go to a public hearing in three or four weeks, Russell said.

Forum organizer Rep. Jennifer DeChant, D-Bath, said she becomes more intrigued with the issue the more she investigates it, but she did not commit herself to voting one way or the other on the bill.

She noted U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, is supporting a national bill that would legalize marijuana for recreational purposes.

lgrard@timesrecord.com

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