On March 3, voters in West Paris have the opportunity to support a proposed ordinance to make enforcement of adult marijuana laws the lowest enforcement priority for law officers performing their duties in West Paris. Although it would be the first of its kind in Maine, communities in seven other states have moved forward with similar ordinances.

Many people in West Paris are asking legitimate questions about the proposed ordinance, such as “Why here, and why now?” Why pick a small, rural community, that doesn’t even have its own police force, and certainly does not consider itself a jumping-off point for a policy discussion?

The reality is that much of Maine is reflected in a town like West Paris. Town government is still under the watchful eye of the last generation, which did not grow up surrounded by a culture that included recreational use of marijuana. And some residents in West Paris have bought into the 80-plus years of government propaganda around the issue of marijuana prohibition.

The other side is that West Paris, like every other community in the state, is full of people who smoke marijuana, grow marijuana, or have family members and friends who do. It is the number one cash crop in Maine, according to activists who support an end to prohibition and the enforcement agencies charged with maintaining the drug war in its entire splendor.

And it is here, in West Paris, where nearly 100 residents signed a petition asking to bring this issue forward.

This ordinance will not cost the town any money, but will help redirect tax dollars towards enforcement of real crimes. It will not create paperwork for the town, with the exception of an annual letter to elected officials sent by the town clerk. And – despite the shrill misrepresentations coming from a few residents – it will not prevent law enforcement officers from doing their job. It is a practical and common sense solution on how local communities can begin to change the failed drug policies that have put our country in a straightjacket.

So, what happens if West Paris residents recognize that all marijuana prohibition does is ensure that honest discussions are unheard? Well, then they vote to support this ordinance, and parents and kids in West Paris would actually begin communicating truthfully about the pros and cons of marijuana use.

What if West Paris residents recognize it is prohibition that creates the “gateway” to substance abuse, and the only reason some people are more likely to use other drugs after marijuana is because buying something illegal exposes them to an underground economy? Well, then they vote to support this ordinance, and we would move one step closer to ending the shady “criminal” underworld of drug dealing and the resulting violence.

What if West Paris residents view this in the way other countries have come to see this issue: as one of public health, not criminal justice? Well, then they vote to support this ordinance, and we would move closer to joining countries with permissive approaches to marijuana that have lower percentages of teenage marijuana smokers than the United States.

West Paris residents are smart enough to fully understand the legacy of failure that began over 80 years ago. It’s a legacy that has cost this country billions of dollars of wasted taxpayer money, while destroying millions of lives caught in the criminal justice system. We believe West Paris residents can help the state of Maine move forward to a policy that treats marijuana the way we treat alcohol: with community oversight and regulation.

But to do any of this we must first get local governments and local residents to voice their opinion. This is why we are here in West Paris. There is never a bad time to do the right thing, and the right thing to do for our communities, our state, and our country, is to end marijuana prohibition.

Passing a “Lowest Law Enforcement Priority Ordinance” will not change our arcane and destructive laws, but it will be a small step in that direction.

Jonathan Leavitt is director of the Maine Marijuana Policy Initiative. He lives in Sumner.

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