While reading the Bangor Daily News’ Jan. 23 front page story “Smuggler given life sentence,” I tried to think of all the people I have met who have used marijuana. I couldn’t; there are too many. So instead I found myself trying to understand the rationale for condemning a man to life in prison for selling a plant, but I couldn’t do that, either.
According to a 1998 report by the Maine Task Force on Drug Abuse, approximately 95,000 Maine adults routinely use marijuana. The report also estimated that 65 percent of adults ages 26 to 34 and 55 percent ages 35 to 50 report using marijuana at least once in their lifetime. By now the 26- to 34-year-olds are in the 35 to 50 age group, likely increasing the overall percentage of people in Maine who have used marijuana, assuming the rate of marijuana users has stayed constant over the last 10 years.
What do these statistics tell us, other than what we already know (people in Maine smoke pot)? Well, for starters, they tell us that there is a pretty good chance that you or someone in your household has used marijuana. I count myself in both categories. You?
For many Mainers, selling marijuana puts food on the table and pays heating bills when work is scarce. It fixes the car and pays for school and health care. Marijuana is Maine’s No. 1 cash crop for a reason – it provides small-scale, eco-
friendly economic development at its most grass-roots, and most successful.
There are reasons marijuana is Maine’s (illegal) drug of choice, but if the user is a consenting adult and doesn’t drive, operate heavy machinery, or risk the health or welfare of others while intoxicated, is it any of our business?
During Michael Pelletier’s sentencing, U.S. District Judge John Woodcock said, “It is striking that you ran a sophisticated drug operation from your wheelchair. That makes the court wonder what you could have done if you turned to legitimate endeavors.” Like perhaps selling beer, tobacco or pharmaceuticals? Even though alcohol, cigarettes and doctor’s prescriptions kill more people each year and count more addicts than marijuana, success in those fields yield six- and seven-figure salaries, tailored suits and expense accounts. Michael Pelletier gets life in prison. Where is the sense in this?
It is one thing to personally object to the use of marijuana; it is another thing altogether to imprison people for growing, using or even selling it. Hundreds of thousands of Mainers have used this plant, yet the fear of persecution and social stigmatization based on stereotypes and caricatures keeps us from speaking out. It is our collective silence that keeps Michael Pelletier and other nonviolent marijuana offenders in jail.
It is time to take the SWAT teams and threats of prison off the table and have an open, honest dialogue about marijuana in Maine. Through this process, I am confident that we will discover our compassion, realize our humanity and, in the end, assert our common sense. Then we can set about the work of reforming Maine’s laws to reflect marijuana’s contribution to our economy and its legitimate role in our culture. It is time to end marijuana prohibition in Maine.
Bob St. Peter is an advisory board member for Maine Marijuana Policy Initiative. He lives in Harborside.