State of Maine: State should rethink marijuana and vaping

The second regular session of the 129th Legislature convened on Jan. 8. It is two months shorter than the first regular session, with statutory adjournment due on April 15. There is a lot to be done by then.

More than a little work was left over from the previous year. Over 400 bills were carried over. The bill directory lists 520 new bills submitted for this winter. Add in another 100 or so from the departments and we are looking at over 1,000 pieces of legislation that must go through the system in the next three months. That draws nigh to the number of bills in a session’s first year.

Fourteen bills were just recalled from the Governor’s desk. They were enacted last year but had not yet been signed by the Governor. Second thoughts emerged and the bills are being pulled back for revision. It is unusual to have a recall of 14 bills at once. Legislate in haste, repent at leisure.

When it comes to repenting at leisure, consider recent measures sanctioning marijuana use and vaping. What were we thinking? In Maine in 2016 “adult use marijuana” was legalized, which includes recreational use, retail sale and taxation. Four years later we are still wrestling with the regulatory consequences, never mind the social impact, at both the state and municipal levels.

Maine cities and towns can choose whether they want to allow retail enterprises and marijuana “social clubs” at the local level. Rulemaking at the state level is still incomplete. Marijuana is illegal at the federal level.

Legal or not, marijuana use is not an aid to motivation. One restaurant owner in Hancock County said he can tell within a week when new hires are regular marijuana users. They are late for work or don’t show up at all. They drift through the workday at a pace that does not match that of a busy kitchen. They don’t stay long.

Scientific studies cited by the National Institute on Drug Abuse indicate negative effects on brain development from regular marijuana use, with more and more use among younger and younger people. Frequent users report “lower life satisfaction, poorer mental health, poorer physical heath and more relationship problems.” Marijuana use is also “linked to a higher likelihood of dropping out of school, more job absences, accidents and injuries.”

Then there is vaping. E-cigarettes were the revolution that was going to let people engage in smoking without really smoking, helping cigarette smokers kick the habit. The problem is that this new and improved habit carries risks of its own, some fatal.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 2,602 hospitalizations and 57 deaths from vaping as of Jan. 7, 2020. Certain components of vaping products are particularly linked with this morbidity, a major one being THC, the “principal psychoactive constituent” in marijuana.

Also on the list of the legal but deadly are opioids. An invaluable treatment option in some circumstances, opioid abuse is a whole other story. In 2017, the death rate in Maine from opioid abuse was twice the national average. A lot of the misuse of opioids began with legal prescriptions.

Does any of this sound likely to improve Maine’s poor economic standing? Marijuana may not have the lethality of opioids nor the social devastation of alcohol abuse but that does not mean that its regular use is innocuous. Ten years from now, will we be pouring millions of dollars into remediating yet another type of drug abuse?

As with any substance used by adults, be it drugs, alcohol or marijuana, young people are quick to emulate. Use of these substances may not be legal for the young, but they have no trouble procuring them. Now we are struggling with how to control advertising of these products so that they do not appeal to kids.

Ha. Banning flavorings in vaping products so that our kids will not find them attractive is a fool’s errand. If adults are using these, kids are going to want to try them too. How many years and how many dollars have been spent trying to disabuse upcoming generations of the opinion that cigarettes are smelly, nasty and toxic, not sexy and cool?

Do we see a pattern here? Cigarette ads featured athletes and actresses, doctors and nurses. And babies! Liquor ads focused on the smart and sophisticated, targeting different ages and both genders. Opioids were touted for effective pain relief and prescribed liberally. All this product promotion never mentioned a downside. Emphysema? Cirrhosis? Addiction? No way!

Needless to say, we have been sadly disabused of our faith in the integrity of the (very wealthy) manufacturers of these substances. Now we know. Yet we still opened the door to marijuana and vaping, both involving substances documented to cause physical and psychological harm. Fool me twice, shame on who?

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Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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