Smoke on the water

Pot%20leaf_40Attitudes regarding marijuana have dramatically changed during the past two decades.

Those in favor of legalizing the drug are finding increasing support from an expanding constituency, including millenials who can now vote and health care providers who say the drug can benefit their patients.

Even retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens — not a likely Cheech & Chong fan — says it is time for marijuana to be legalized.

In an interview with Scott Simon on National Public Radio, the former justice said: “I really think that that’s another instance of public opinion [that’s] changed. And recognize that the distinction between marijuana and alcoholic beverages is really not much of a distinction.”

Talk about a dramatic shift. In 1987,  after admitting that he once used marijuana, Supreme Court nominee Douglas Ginsburg was forced to back away from the nomination process.

And last year, voters in both Colorado and Washington defied federal law and legalized the use of marijuana as a controlled substance.

But the quest to legalize marijuana in all 50 states face an uphill battle, best evidenced by what has happened in the Maine Legislature.

In November The Legislative Council, a 10-member group of legislative leaders,  split on a proposal that would have sent a statewide referendum question to voters. Because the vote was tied, it failed and cannot be considered again until the next Legislature convenes in 2015.

It was the third time the Legislature has rejected proposals by State Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) to legalize marijuana. Russell could not be reached for comment.

But State Rep. Alan Casavant (D-Biddeford) said he is glad the proposal failed.

“I voted against it every time,” Casavant said.

Casavant, who spent more than 35 years teaching high school, said he experienced first hand the impact of marijuana on his students.

“Legalizing it would be nothing more than a continued erosion of our culture,” he said. “I have heard all the arguments for and against, and I can’t support it.”

Casavant also said the issue should not be debated on a state-by state basis. “For it to happen, we really need some guidance from the federal government. It’s a very complicated issue. Where do you draw the line on intoxication, for example?”

Casavant says he is sympathetic to those who need marijuana for medicinal reasons, but says the risks still outweigh the benefits, even when considering that marijuana could provide a bumper crop of new tax revenue.

“As the mayor of a city, as a legislator, I am very aware of how we need new sources of revenue that will not impact people who are already struggling to keep up, but despite those realities, I can’t support this. Not now.”

State Rep. Justin Chenette (D-Saco) said he is “evolving on the issue.” Chenette said he had initial apprehension about the issue when first approached for his support by Russell.

“Being a college student so recently, I have witnessed the rampant use of marijuana on campus,” Chenette said. “I am concerned about how young people will use it, but I also see the other side. I would be in favor of sending the question to referendum, but I have yet to formulate a strong opinion one way or the other. It’s something that warrants more study.”

Ryan Fecteau of Biddeford is hoping to be a member of the next legislature.

Fecteau, 21, says he generally supports the legalization of marijuana but does not want to see it included in the Maine Democratic Party’s platform because it could be wedge issue in a year when Maine Democrats need to be focused on bigger fish, including capturing the Blaine House.

“I think it should be treated the same as alcohol,” Fecteau said, adding that additional revenue from the state sale of marijuana could provide much-needed tax relief for seniors and revenue that could help fund critical programs.

With a little help from my friends

A few days ago, I posted a simple question on my Facebook page about the legalization of marijuana.

That informal survey drew more than 100 responses in 24 hours.

I was surprised by some of the responses. I was also fascinated to see that an almost even split of Republicans and Democrats were on each side of the issue.

Moreover, both men and women overwhelmingly support legalization (male approval led female approval by only a slight margin).

Women with children were equally split. Among male opponents, more than 75 percent are politically conservative, yet nearly 40 percent of male supporters are conservatives.

Here are a few charts to break it down for you:








Smoking in the boys’ room

Portland, Maine

I have a friend — let’s call him Todd — who thinks that the city of Portland, Maine is so hip, so cool and oh so wonderful.

Todd fled the pace and grind of Boston in order to raise his family in place that is consistently ranked as one of the country’s most “livable” cities, whatever that means. Today, Todd has become one of Portland’s biggest fans.

I like Todd. He is a smart guy. He has a law degree.  Generally speaking, Todd arrives at his conclusions following a painstaking and multi-layered process of analytical and critical thinking. Todd has jumped into Portland with both feet. He recently bought a home in North Deering. He is a civic volunteer. He is an under-40 professional with a beautiful wife, two small children and a promising life ahead of him.

I admire Todd, but I want to vomit every time he feels compelled to tell me how great it is to live, work and play in Portland.

I know what you’re thinking: Dude, you live in Biddeford. You ought to shut to eff up and call U-Haul before you start dissing Maine’s largest city.

Go ahead and laugh. I can handle it. It’s not exactly an original thought.

Before we proceed any further, let me assure you that I know a thing or two about the city of Portland. I have some street cred when it comes to discussing the city I call pretentious-ville, a city that so transparently and desperately wants to be a mini-Boston.

I’ve lived in a brownstone, I’ve lived in a ghetto

I lived in Portland before it was considered hip; before you thought it was actually possible to bump into Jack Kerouac’s ghost.

I worked in the kitchen at 39 Exchange Street, a restaurant that has since been replaced by a much-needed boutique store in the Old Port. I worked as a janitor at the McDonald’s that was located on the corner of Oak and Congress streets. I made pizzas at The Bag on Free Street. I also had a corner office across the street from Brian Boru.

I lived on “The Hill” (Vesper Street) and the West End (well, sort of the edge . .Walker Street) I lived on the fourth floor of the Trewlawny building and survived on Italian sandwiches from Joe’s Smoke Shop. I remember the State Theater when it showed pornos. Christ, I saw mainstream movies at the Fine Arts Cinema before it decided to give the State a run for its money with John Holmes flicks. I was thrown out of Horsefeathers.

I remember when Dewey’s was located on Fore Street; when DiMillo’s was just a hole in the wall on the other side of Commercial Street. I rented a room on Sherman Street. We used to call that neighborhood “the student slums.” Today, we call it “Parkside.”  I lost my virginity on Alba Street in Deering Center. I got picked up by the police on Canco Road, and I was there when the cranes arrived at the Golden Triangle to begin construction of One City Center.

I ate mushrooms in the basement of a friend’s house on Spring Street and then swore I could see telephone poles melting on Winter Street. I worked third shift at the 7-11 on Congress Street; and passed out in the median of the Franklin Arterial. I shared an apartment with a gay roommate on Park Street. I lived on Peaks Island when the Portland ferry terminal was little more than a dilapidated building. I sold pipe, valves and fittings at W.L. Blake, an industrial supply wholesale distributor that is today the Old Port Sea Grill and up-scale office spaces.

I was evicted from an apartment on Preble Street; and fell madly in love with a girl who attended the Portland School of Art (today: Maine College of Art). I rode the escalators at Porteous, Mitchell and Braun. I ate scrambled eggs while hungover at Ye Olde Pancake Shoppe. I bumped into Sammy Hagar at the Sonesta Hotel, which quickly changed its name back to the Eastland.

I remember when WMGX had a studio on Cumberland Avenue and when Frank Fixaris announced high school sports scores on Channel 13 and Fred Nutter did televised editorials on Channel 6. I remember when you could get a great sandwich at Carbur’s or see the Kopterz play at Cayo’s.

Okay; you get the picture.

So, forgive me if I have a different perspective of Portland, Maine. Forgive me if I don’t buy into all the laddi-da crap about how wonderful and “livable” the city is.  Forgive me for believing that Portland is the most self-absorbed and obnoxious of Maine’s 457 cities and towns. Livable? Tell that to the people living in my old apartment on the third-floor of a Greenleaf Street triple-decker. Take a walk down Valley Street at 2 a.m. on a Thursday and tell me all about “livable.”

Suffragette City

Ironically, voters in the same city where the Temperance movement got its beginnings recently approved a referendum that allows the use of limited amounts of marijuana.

Neal Dow, the father of Prohibition and a former Portland mayor, must be rolling in his grave.

The referendum’s success was a much celebrated event among the city’s uber liberal progressives who spend their days dreaming about being free of “the man” and his corporate control over their lives; while simultaneously devising new ways to control and restrict the lives of their neighbors with a mountain of nanny-state regulations, from outlawing the use of Styrofoam to forbidding soft drinks on school grounds.

Portland — a once proud, prosperous and industrious community that hosted the North Atlantic Fleet during WWII — has today become the capital of hypocrisy and self-absorption.

I have no problem with legalizing the use or possession of marijuana. I am a Libertarian. But I wonder how a city that wants to celebrate individualism and diversity over everything else can keep a straight face when explaining the tobacco smoking ordinance the city council approved earlier this year.

In a March 6, 2013 Portland Press Herald story, Portland Mayor Michael Brennan said the city’s tobacco ordinance was created to address a serious public health issue: second-hand smoke.

“Secondhand smoke is a dangerous toxin,” Brennan told the newspaper. “Whether it’s children on a swing set or joggers circling the Back Cove or someone walking their dog along the Eastern Prom, we need to make sure we are doing everything we can to reduce the exposure to such a serious health hazard.”

Sure, it’s hard to argue with Brennan on this point, but I wonder if he can answer my next question: Why does the ban also apply to electronic cigarettes, which emit only a water-based vapor while delivering nicotine to the user?

I’m a smoker, so I can’t hold my breath waiting for Brennan to answer the question, but it’s really quite simple: Even the appearance of smoking does not fit with the fluff and pompoms of Maine’s most “livable” city.

Hiding behind the pretense of a public health concern (what is the city doing to control automobile fumes that I am forced to inhale while walking through the Old Port?) is little more than a ruse. Smokers are the ugly people, the less-than people. The NASCAR-watchin’, beer drinkin’ types who probably buy their clothes at Wal-Mart. That doesn’t quite match the image, does it?

And if there’s one thing we know about Portland, it’s that image is everything.

So, go ahead, Portland . . . keep patting yourselves on your collective backs.

Me? I’ll take cities and towns like Lewiston, Rumford, Sanford or Biddeford every day of the week.

Smoke ’em, if you got ’em.