Letter to the Editor - Re: The Pandora’s Pot of Maine’s Marijuana Legalization

I am writing as one of the 375,668 “No” voters, asking our legislators, the 17 members of the Joint Select Committee on Medical Marijuana Legalization Implementation and fellow citizens to reflect upon the Pandora’s box that commercialized pot will open in our beautiful state. I’ve been a property owner in Maine since 1988 and year-round resident since 2011. 

Since 2002 I’ve suffered from severe migraines, and in 2014 began using medical marijuana as part of my treatment, alternating with Zomig. Maine has had a medical marijuana program since 1999 and allowed dispensaries starting in 2011. For $149/year, I got an initial evaluation, a certification card and follow up calls or visits at no charge. This has been very helpful to me.

However I must point out that when I use medical marijuana to control pain, I am house-bound for six hours or more due to side effects, including dizziness, slurred speech, and a sense of loss of control. I have trouble navigating stairs. 

Contrary to propaganda in November 2016, Maine has not criminalized pot use or possession of less than 2.5 ounces since 1976. The referendum question had 46 words, but how many people read the 15,000 word document explaining all the details of this law and its implications? Of the eight states with legalized marijuana, none allow Social Clubs. Why are we inviting marijuana tourism? 

“A roadside study of reckless drivers who were not impaired by alcohol, showed that 45% of these drivers tested positive for marijuana” (Brookoff, New England Journal of Medicine). How can Maine control road safety when the legislature has not set an OUI limit for THC in the bloodstream? The bill to do so was rejected by the Maine House in April 2016, although 17 states have such laws. We could have millions of visitors coming to Social Clubs and marijuana retail stores for one purpose - to get high, with no way for the police to prove impaired driving. Google “Maine Marijuana Tours” - they are ready to go in February 2018! We are not ready for them. 

The only purpose of Marijuana Social Clubs is to get “stoned,” “wasted,” “high,” to try all the different strains to see which has the greatest effect. Marijuana is vastly different from alcohol. Alcohol has one ingredient - ethanol. Marijuana contains over 400 known chemicals, 66 of which are unique to cannabis. Three subclasses of these cannabinoids - THC, CBN and CBDL are known to be psychoactive. The body metabolizes alcohol in a few hours, whereas cannabinoids can take days or weeks to leave the system. THC, the principal psychoactive component of Cannabis plants, can vary in strength from a modest 1-5%, to an average 17% or a Bruce Banner or King Tut strain which advertise a 30% hit! How high can you get - “Blissful Wizard offers 28-34% THC!” Growers have created over 700 strains to maximize THC and psychoactive effects. 

Edible marijuana products are digested and processed by the liver, which produces a longer-lasting, more psychoactive high. A marijuana brownie, cookie or candy out of its wrapper looks like any other treat, and can be easily consumed while driving. How are all our new tourists going to get safely home? Are we going to be safe sharing the roads with them? And we haven’t even discussed the accessibility of these edibles for teens and young children.

My True Story 

It was June 2015, and I was in Colorado, a legal marijuana state, for my son’s wedding. The day before I was supposed to go home, my migraines flared, so I tried to buy some medical marijuana using my Maine card. Colorado would not honor the card, so I made the decision to try recreational marijuana, asking myself “how much different could it be?” There were 100 retail marijuana stores in the Denver area alone. My wife warned me, “Don’t take that Colorado pot.” Ignoring her advice, I purchased a small container of edible hard candies, cinnamon flavor, got home and took two at 10 p.m., then laid down to sleep. Two hours later I didn’t feel the effects much and the migraine was still there. I took two more of the hard candies and went back to sleep. When I woke in the morning it was time to drive to the airport for my flight home. Feeling dizzy, I held tightly to the railing coming down the stairs. The B&B owners offered me a cup of tea. Then next thing I knew, there were three EMTs at my side. I was lying on the floor, unable to move or get up. They placed me on a gurney and transported me to the local ER. 

At the hospital, after checking my vital signs and watching me for a couple hours, they released me. It was 12 noon, 14 hours since taking the first candies, 14 hours to return to feeling “normal.” The discharge papers said nothing about accidental marijuana overdose, but that’s what it was. The hospital bill was $5000. This event has had a profound influence on me. With three years experience using medical marijuana, I was not prepared for the high THC levels in recreational marijuana. What could happen to the average person first trying to use recreational marijuana? What might have happened if I’d gotten into a car that evening and passed out while driving?

The Pandora’s Pot

Six flowering plants per person doesn’t sound like much, so let’s do the math. One outdoor plant can yield 500 grams of marijuana. Estimates of grams of marijuana per joint vary from .32 to .75 grams. Using one half gram per joint, 500 grams yields 1000 joints, and six plants yields 6000 joints per year, per person over 21 in Maine, 16 joints per day. Is this PERSONAL USE? 

Maine has 450,000 people over 21. If the half that voted yes (225,000), raises the allowable amount, they could produce 1,350,000 pounds of pot per year, enough to make 1.2 billion joints per year in a state with 1.33 million population, 920 joints for every man, woman and child in the state, two and a half per day (two per day qualifies as “heavy use”). Everybody gets stoned! Not only that, but we’ve got huge incentive for non-residents to lease land to grow marijuana and drive it out of state. There are no checkpoints. Legal operations will flourish. Is that what we want? 

Now let’s look at commercial growers, who started out with a statewide cultivation cap of 800,000 square feet, which was eliminated in July. Everything they grow must legally be used within state borders. A square foot can produce 200 grams per year in a greenhouse. For one million square feet, the production could equal 416,666 pounds per year. If five million square feet are developed, production could equal 2,083,330 pounds per year. Who needs this much marijuana?

Residents of Maine face a major turning point. Will we continue down the wrong path with retail marijuana stores and social clubs encouraging new marijuana users? with small, out-of-state free-lance growers engaging in illegal activities, as reported by other states who’ve legalized? Our great Maine outdoors - hunting, fishing, skiing, hiking, kayaking - brings in $8.2 billion a year in a $50 billion state economy. (Outdoor Industry Association, BDN, John Holyoke). Let’s continue to develop that healthy slice of life instead of sliding into a smoky pot morass just to net a few million in tax revenue. 

If you are concerned about this issue, please contact your local selectman, state senators/representatives and Governor LePage.

Joe Merkel,

Gouldsboro, Maine