The Universal Notebook: Maine goes to pot

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Drug use is one of those subjects like religion that begets endless hypocrisy. Lately, politicians in Maine and D.C. have been turning themselves inside out trying to deal with the fact that 64 percent of Americans favor legalizing marijuana. Naturally, moralizing hypocrites stand in the way.

“Good people don’t smoke marijuana,” Jeff Sessions infamously declared while he was still in the U.S. Senate. Now that he is U.S. attorney general he is in a position to make life difficult for pot users even in a state, like Maine, where it is legal.

Obviously, the self-righteous Sessions doesn’t know what he is talking about. Lots of good people both grow and use marijuana. Half of U.S. adults have tried pot and 55 million adults currently use it. Heck, even 51 percent of straight-laced Republicans support legalization, although only 14 percent actually smoke dope.

Sessions’ hypocrisy is most obvious in the fact that he is a big supporter of the tobacco industry and tobacco is the No. 1 preventable cause of death in this country, responsible for 480,000 deaths a year. Alcohol, another legal recreational drug, is the third largest preventable cause of death, taking 88,000 lives a year. (Obesity is second, killing 300,000 Americans annually.)

Thirty states have legalized marijuana use, as Maine voters narrowly did in November 2016. But you still can’t legally buy recreational marijuana in Maine. In part that’s because in November 2017, Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill to tax and regulate recreational cannabis sales because of conflicts with federal laws. There is a moratorium on legalization while the Legislature’s Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee writes the rules, but earlier this month the committee punted – voting to ban marijuana social clubs, essentially bars for pot smokers – until 2023.

I voted for legalization, but I really don’t care how legalization plays out. As long as folks who grow and smoke pot aren’t getting busted, whether it’s legal or not makes no difference. But Sessions and most of the Republican Party are clearly out of step with the American people, who, despite the election of Donald Trump, are becoming more permissive on social issues.

A Gallup poll back in May 2017 showed 91 percent of Americans find birth control “morally acceptable,” while 73 percent approve of divorce, 69 percent approve of pre-marital sex, 63 percent approve of gay/lesbian relations and 62 percent approve of childbirth outside of marriage.

As self-appointed guardians of public morals, Republicans like Sessions and LePage try to force their own puritanical beliefs on everyone else. The will of the people means nothing to the nasty new breed of Republican. Not only has LePage been doing his best to muck up marijuana legalization, he is also the chief reason that, amid an epidemic of opioid overdoses and deaths, Maine has yet to make the antidote drug naloxone (also known as Narcan) available without prescription.

The Maine Legislature passed a bill to do so in 2016. LePage vetoed it. It then became law without LePage’s signature, but wider availability of Narcan has languished because former Republican state Rep. Joseph Bruno, a major LePage booster and chairman of the state Board of Pharmacy, has refused to approve rules for dispensing it. Even  Mary Mayhew, the former Department of Health and Human Services commissioner and a gubernatorial hopeful, who usually kisses LePage’s ring, has come out against the unconscionable delay in releasing the life-saving drug.

LePage made his moralistic view of addiction frighteningly clear back in 2016, when he vetoed the non-prescription naloxone bill.

“Naloxone does not truly save lives,” LePage objected, “it merely extends them until the next overdose.”

LePage’s view is that an overdose antidote just enables addiction. Better to let addicts die like dogs in the street than treat addiction like an illness rather than a moral failing. In LePage’s simplistic, black and white moral universe, as in Sessions’, good people don’t get addicted to prescription painkillers and then end up using heroin because it’s cheaper and easier to acquire than Oxycontin.

But that, too, is a conservative crock. If you don’t know a good person who got addicted to painkillers after using them legally to combat pain, you’ve lived a rather sheltered life. And if you’ve ever been administered morphine or prescribed Oxycontin, you should understand how easily good people can succumb to the instant relief from pain and suffering. One second you’re in agony and the next you haven’t got a care in the world.

And that relief from suffering, of course, is the appeal of most drugs, as it is of religion. It’s a response to the human condition and it’s none of the government’s business as long as no one else’s rights are being violated. Conservatives are always squawking about getting the government off our backs. Well, let’s start with Sessions and LePage.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.