The Portland Phoenix

Politics & Other Mistakes: Smoke and mirrors, but mostly smoke

Let’s suppose a pollster paid by a government agency showed up on your doorstep and asked you if you were committing any illegal acts.

Whether you were or not, you’d almost certainly be smart enough to say no. Or maybe you’d refuse to answer until you’d consulted with an attorney. Only the exceptionally stupid (NFL coaches, Big Lie advocates, Kardashians), would admit to engaging in criminal activities.

As a result, once this survey team had crushed all its data, it would come to the erroneous conclusion that almost nobody was doing anything shady. The public could rest easy as the police were defunded.

Perhaps you think no government bureaucrat would be dumb enough to rely on the results of such a poorly formulated poll to set public policy. You’d be wrong.

The Maine Office of Cannabis Policy (motto: dude, we are totally zoned out on that policy thing) recently released the results of a survey conducted late last year by a Boston-based company called (I swear I’m not making this up) Advocates for Human Potential that claims only a small percentage of pot users in the state are getting their weed on the black market.

Of the approximately 2,000 people polled, 64 percent said they bought their marijuana from legal sources – either medical caregivers, dispensaries, or the newly legalized adult-use marketplace.

The other 36 percent of respondents must have been stoned, which is the only reasonable explanation for confessing to an illegal act.

According to a news release from the pot office, these numbers show “the current illicit market has diminished more than expected.”

In several other states where the kind bud is legal, the black market is still estimated to account for 50 percent or more of all sales. That’s because unregulated pot is both cheaper and more readily available than the government-controlled variety.

The same situation probably prevails in Maine. We just don’t want to admit it.

“Make no mistake,” said Dr. Michael Sofis, the principal investigator for this study, “the findings of this report show that the implementation of the adult-use market in the state of Maine may be considered an achievement in both public health and cannabis policy.”

Also, in the increased sales of munchies.

Let’s set aside the strong likelihood that a whole lot of people who responded to this poll lied about buying illegally. Of greater concern is that the marijuana office intends to use this flawed document to set policies. That might be justified if this was a statistically valid poll. But it isn’t.

The survey was conducted online and all the respondents volunteered to answer questions. There was no attempt to obtain a random sample of Maine residents or even of Maine pot purchasers. The results rely on a skewed sampling of stoners of questionable reliability and functionality.

Only a tiny fraction of the state’s municipalities allow adult-use sales. There are only about 90 such stores in Maine, nearly all of them in larger cities or tourist locations. In most rural areas, buying legal recreational pot requires a long drive.

But there’s a cheaper, more convenient option for the more than 100,000 Mainers who possess medical marijuana certificates. There are literally thousands of medical pot caregivers ready to provide high-quality, reasonably priced weed to them.

And quite likely to lots of others without those cards.

It’s an open secret that the folks who grow medical pot are also the major source of black-market marijuana. They represent not only a majority of the legal market, but most of the illegal market. And they’re fighting hard to keep it that way.

The caregivers stonewalled attempts by the cannabis office to impose stricter regulations on them and then convinced the Legislature to pass a law requiring all new rules to gain legislative approval. They argue that a lightly controlled medical marketplace works to restrain illegal sales.

In reality – a region rarely visited by either pot growers or cannabis bureaucrats – the opposite is true.

Maine’s black market remains healthy, wealthy, and wise to the politics of marijuana.

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