Legalization advocates rejoiced after this election when Portland, Maine, became the first East Coast city to vote for the legalization of marijuana possession for adults 21 and over. Buoyed by the support, Portland Democrat Diane Russell is going to try once again to move her bill for statewide marijuana legalization through the Maine legislature. Lining up to oppose her is the usual cadre of drug rehabbers, police organizations, and… medical marijuana dispensaries?
Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine (MMCM), a trade association representing growers and dispensaries, sent out a letter to its members and the public urging voters to lobby their legislators to oppose the legalization bill. Maine Public Broadcasting reports that Paul McCarrier, a spokesman for MMCM, fears that legalization for healthy people would “threaten to undo the [medical marijuana] system that’s in place and create an underground market for marijuana.” (Um, what is the current market in marijuana for healthy people in Maine?)
"With the level of tax that they're suggesting on marijuana, including having a minimum amount per gram, all that will do is encourage a black market in this state and will drive up the costs for marijuana producers in general," McCarrier says, though it’s hard to imagine how legalization can create a bigger black market than already exists for marijuana. It’s also hard to fathom how a tax is a greater cost than the freedom and assets one can lose for a pot bust.
The Portland Press-Herald reports that Rep. Russell’s bill would “impose a 10 percent sales tax and 15 percent excise tax on marijuana. That revenue would go toward public school construction, addiction treatment and the prevention of underage sales and usage, among other programs.” If those numbers sound familiar, they are equal to the taxation just passed in Colorado for its recreational marijuana system. They are far lower taxes than the three-times-25% taxes Washingtonians will be paying for legal weed.
According to PriceofWeed.com, high quality marijuana is selling for over $320 an ounce right now in Maine, while prices in Colorado and Washington are both below $240 an ounce. The estimated $12/gram price for Washington even after massive taxation is about what Mainers are paying for black market weed now.
It’s unfortunate that medical marijuana grower and dispensary opposition to marijuana legalization has become predictable. First we saw dispensaries and the Emerald Triangle growers opposing Proposition 19 in California in 2010, then we saw dispensaries opposing Washington’s I-502 and Colorado’s Amendment 64 in 2012. The Drug Czar couldn’t have concocted a more sinister scheme: let only the minority of medical users smoke pot, they’ll build an industry to satisfy their needs, then they’ll protect their monopoly turf and spend the proceeds from pot sales to prevent the majority of healthy users from smoking pot.
"Radical" Russ Belville is the host of "The Russ Belville Show."