I just visited Maine to share the lessons my state, Washington, has learned four years after voting to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana for adults. During my visit, Maine Gov. Paul LePage issued a video statement against Question One (Maine’s initiative to legalize the adult use of marijuana).
The closest thing to a conversation I can have about this important issue with the governor is to respond, point-by-point, to his call to vote “no” on Question 1. This does not represent an actual conversation, but is simply a way to offer my counterpoint to LePage’s statements.
Gov. LePage: Question One is not just bad for Maine. It can be deadly.
Steves: Gov. LePage, experience has taught us that the most dangerous thing about marijuana is the fact that it’s illegal.
LePage: Marijuana kills people on the highways.
Steves: No, impaired and reckless drivers kill people on the highways. We agree that anyone driving intoxicated or impaired by anything should have the book thrown at them.
LePage: Traffic deaths in Colorado have increased dramatically.
Steves: Governor, 25 states have legal medical marijuana and there is no evidence that this has impacted safety on their roads. Washington State — where I drive — is among the safest places to drive in the country.
LePage: Marijuana is three times stronger than it was in the 1980s.
Steves: Yes, that’s the result of a prohibition. When a drug is criminalized, it becomes more potent. America went into the Prohibition of plcohol era as a beer-drinking nation and came out a whisky-drinking nation. By the way, so far all of your complaints have assumed pot use will go up if we legalize. My state and Colorado have found that use does not go up. In fact, no society has found any correlation between the strictness of their laws and how much marijuana is smoked.
LePage: People addicted to marijuana are three times more likely to be addicted to heroin.
Steves: We have learned that the only “gateway” regarding marijuana is the fact that it’s illegal — then you have to buy it from criminals on the street who have a vested interest in selling people something more addictive and more profitable.
LePage: Heroin is already killing seven Mainers a week. We do not need to legalize another drug that could lead to more deaths.
Steves: European countries that have reformed their marijuana laws have done so in order to deal more effectively with their heroin addicted population. In Europe, people know that a society has to make a choice: tolerate alternative lifestyles or build more prisons. My European friends always remind me that we Americans lock up eight times as many people per capita as they do. Either we are an inherently more criminal people, or there’s something screwy about our laws.
LePage: THC levels in marijuana snacks are so high they could kill children and pets.
Steves: Sir, that is complete nonsense. THC has never killed anyone. Perhaps you’re thinking of misuse of pharmaceuticals or alcohol.
LePage: Pot snacks can be cookies, candy, gummy bears and soda. Children can’t tell if weed is in these snacks.
Steves: Marijuana is a drug. It can be abused. And no one in the drug reform community believes it’s for children. Edibles must be packaged smartly, labeled clearly and sold in small amounts. Yes, children’s safety is a very important issue. That’s why the Children’s Alliance in my state endorsed our law to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana for adults in Washington.
LePage: People will smoke marijuana in pot stores right next to schools, day care centers and churches.
Steves: Question 1 is not a pro-pot law. Like the law in my state, it is a smart, common sense, public safety law. It strictly limits both how marijuana stores can advertise and where they can be located.
LePage: They will smoke weed and sell pot at state fairs.
Steves: Governor, the people of your state already do.
LePage: Businesses could not fire employees for using marijuana.
Steves: With Question 1, the rights of an employer to maintain whatever standards he or she chooses in that workplace remain unchanged.
LePage: Before you vote, please educate yourself on this dangerous issue.
Steves: That’s a great idea, Gov. LePage. Before you vote, please educate yourself. You are talking like it’s 2010. It is 2016, and we’ve come a long way. We now have a track record. Four states — including mine — have made marijuana legal for adults and the numbers are in: Use does not go up. Teen use does not go up. Crime does not go up. DUIs do not go up. The only thing that goes up is tax revenue (in my state, $120 million a year).
I believe Maine would be smart to vote yes on Question 1.
Thanks and happy travels.
Rick Steves is a travel writer and board member of NORML (The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws).