Maine leaders should resist marijuana bill

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John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.

If I had voted to legalize recreational marijuana last November, I’d be mighty disturbed by the draft bill approved last week by the Maine Legislature, which is using a heavy hand as it crafts a law governing how pot can be grown, used and sold.

The wording on last year’s referendum was pretty plain: “Do you want to allow the possession and use of marijuana under state law by persons who are at least 21 years of age, and allow the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, testing, and sale of marijuana and marijuana products subject to state regulation, taxation and local ordinance?”

Directives in the draft bill include that growers can’t have more than 12 plants, perhaps 18 if the local authorities expand the limit; marijuana facilities can’t be located within 1,000 feet of a school, unless a town reduces it to 500 feet; marijuana would be taxed at an effective 20 percent rate, rather than the 10 percent rate called for in the referendum; towns can totally opt out of allowing sales or grow operations; only residents here for at least two years can sell the stuff, and drive-through sales, Internet sales and home delivery would be prohibited.

Marijuana advocates say the bill includes many restrictions that seem to go above and beyond the voters’ intent.

I, however, appreciate the lengths the Legislature is going to. Lawmakers are right to be cautious when ushering in this new state of insobriety. But my question is this: Is it too late to stop this madness?

I don’t think so. Not if we resist. Heck, if Democrats, liberals and Antifa can resist everything Trump proposes, why can’t those opposed to legalizing drugs resist as well?

Like Never-Trumpers, I’m a Never-Doper and urge those in power to resist the circus insanity. If the Legislature can’t delay or derail this legislation, the governor should resist marijuana normalization and veto any bill the Legislature sends his way.

I understand resistance is futile when there’s a substantial majority. But, similar to Trump’s razor-thin victory, which robbed him of any popular mandate, the marijuana measure barely passed. It took several days and a recount to certify the official tally as 381,788 in favor and 377,773 opposed. If a mere 2,000 of 1.2 million Mainers had switched their votes, Vacationland would still be a drug-free zone. In fact, the majority of counties rejected it, and the question only passed because of the liberal-leaning population centers in Cumberland and York counties.

Is it sacrilege to suggest a citizen-initiated referendum be dismissed? Maybe, but we all know the process in Maine has been corrupted by out-of-state, big-money interests. We also know the will of the voters is rarely followed by the Legislature as it creates law by tweaking a referendum’s wording. For a recent example of this, legislators and the governor basically nullified last fall’s referendum that imposed a 3 percent tax on Mainers earning more than $200,000.

Since only 50.3 percent of Mainers approved recreational marijuana, there is no popular mandate. And, with the big picture in mind, this is likely a gateway bill to legalizing other illegal drugs, so I see no harm in overturning the referendum.

I’m all for the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I’m no libertarian, though. I feel government is needed to rein in our natural recklessness. Where to draw that line is why we need competent philosopher-kings in power, willing to take the barbs from the masses and to counter the group-think of the day. If ever strong leadership was required, it’s with marijuana.

Dope is not a gateway, casual drug; it is a drug. It’s addicting. It’s bad for one’s health. It’s hard to live in a community if half the people aren’t sober. It’s hard to run a family if the kids think smoking dope is acceptable because the government allows it. It’s hard to live clean if your surrounding culture says some drugs are OK. I especially feel for opiate addicts who are hearing one drug, a pain medication, is harmful and another, dope, is acceptable. It must make it harder to quit.

We need to resist the drug culture any way we can. Some are saying the Maine Constitution allows the governor and perhaps the Legislature to reject any referendum. I can see that being the case since this is a republic, not a democracy, and the courts and other levels of government can strike down unconstitutional referendums. The governor is already talking about resisting this legislation and I urge him to do so.

Our leaders should do what’s right; legalizing and normalizing pot is certainly not right. Resist. And, if they don’t, perhaps a counter-referendum is in order for 2020.

John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.