Supporters of an initiative to legalize the recreational use of marijuana will start using city buses to promote marijuana as a safer alternative to alcohol that’s also less likely to cause a hangover or make people rowdy. “Why should I be punished for making the safer choice?” each of the signs asks, with the word “safer” underlined.
But Joanna Morrissey, project manager for 21 Reasons, said the advertising campaign is misguided because it reaches the wrong target audience. Morrissey said METRO buses can be seen by youth. Some Portland students ride METRO buses to school. “We are disappointed in the campaign’s aggressiveness and recklessness, especially in the message that it will be sending youth,” Morrissey said.
Her organization is a coalition whose goal is to build a healthy community that fosters the drug free development of all youth. It partners with law enforcement, schools, businesses, parents and youth to achieve its goals. The “Yes on Question 1” ads depict smiling adults who appear to be well dressed and clean cut, rather than depicting pot-smoking stereotypes. In one, a smiling middle-aged woman with gray hair says: “I prefer marijuana over alcohol because it is less harmful to my body.” In another, a young professional woman with black-rimmed glasses says: “I prefer marijuana over alcohol because it’s less toxic, so there’s no hangover.”
A middle-aged man in a polo shirt says: “I prefer marijuana over alcohol because it doesn’t make me rowdy or reckless.” The ads are funded by the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that has made Maine one of 10 target states where it hopes to legalize marijuana by 2016. In November, Portland voters will be asked to legalize recreational marijuana use by adults over the age of 21.
“We have these ads to spark a discussion with Portlanders about whether people should be punished” for using marijuana, said David Boyer, Marijuana Policy Project’s Maine political Director. Marijuana is illegal under federal law, but Maine is one of 20 states to allow the use of medical marijuana. Portland’s Nov. 5 referendum proposal, if it passes, would allow anyone over the age of 21 to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana. If approved, people would still be prohibited from selling marijuana or using it on public property and roadways. Landlords would be able to prohibit its use on their properties, too.
The petition effort to put the question on the ballot was led by the Portland Green Independent Committee. It’s being supported by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, the NAACP of Maine and the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine. Boyer said the ad campaign is designed to change negative perceptions of marijuana, which the federal government lists as controlled substances comparable to heroin.
“We’re simply combating the decades of lies from the government regarding the relative safety of marijuana compared to other substances, such as alcohol,” Boyer said. Youth substance abuse counselors, meanwhile, have worried that the ongoing debate over Portland’s referendum will inadvertently increase drug use among minors by reducing the perceived risk.
Morrissey says there has to be a better way for Boyer’s group to target its campaign toward adults and not teenagers, who are too young to vote. “There are other avenues that are far more responsible than using a city bus,” Morrissey said. “What they’re doing is completely irresponsible.” David Faulkner is the Executive Director of Day One, a statewide agency based in South Portland that treats teen drug and alcohol abuse. Its mission is to reduce substance abuse among Maine youth so that they can lead productive, healthy and rewarding lives.
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