Maine's Online Campaign About Health And Marijuana Use Is Met With Mixed Reactions

Nov 21, 2018

Maine state government is quietly rolling out an online and social media campaign warning minors and adults about enforcement and health issues that come with the legalization of marijuana in Maine. While some advocates for legalized medical and adult-use marijuana in Maine are supportive, online responders are questioning the effort, with some calling it "Prohibition Propaganda."

Maine state government is quietly rolling out an online and social media campaign warning minors and adults about enforcement and health issues that come with the legalization of marijuana in Maine.
Credit Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

In some ways the state's Good to Know Maine campaign is similar to other government initiatives that aim to raise awareness about the health effects and legal consequences of alcohol or tobacco abuse.

“It's really an effort to educate Mainers on how to safely, legally and responsibly navigate Maine's changing marijuana landscape,” says Emily Spencer, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services.

The DHHS developed the website, Facebook, Instagram and digital advertising project with the Department of Administration and Financial Services.

Messages on the website range from cautionary advice for adults — such as "marijuana affects everyone differently," to "use in private, not in public,” “don't drive high” or "lock it up" as sterner warnings for underage Mainers.

"We're looking to prevent Mainers under the age of 21, of course, from buying and using marijuana,” Spencer says. “Our ultimate goal is really to get people to and make sure they have this useful information."

That includes information about the perils that people under-21 might face if caught with pot — perils like fines, misdemeanor or felony charges, loss of a driver's license, loss of financial aid, getting fired from a job or booted from a sports team. And it warns that pot use harms the developing brain.

"I think on balance, it's pretty good,” says David Boyer, the state director of the Marijuana Policy Project. “It's mostly fact- and science-based information about marijuana and the relative harms of it."

The Marijuana Policy Project is a leader in the campaign to get marijuana legalized for adult use and for medical use in Maine.

"This is somewhat of a different message than we've seen from the state, even just three, four years ago, which was little bit more towards the ‘reefer-madness’-type rhetoric,” Boyer says. “So acknowledging that marijuana is legal, it outlines what the rules are, how many plants you can grow at home, what the possession limit is — is not really something we've ever seen from the state past two years. So it's better late than never."

But some in the marijuana-consuming community are giving the project a pretty negative reception — most evidently on the Good to Know Maine Facebook page, where hundreds of posts slam or mock the effort as "Prohibition Propaganda."

In response to a warning that it's still illegal to possess marijuana on federal land, such as Acadia National Park, one poster replied "Stupid laws were made to break and good luck catching me." Another offers to find Smokey the Bear so they can "roast a bowl" together.

Credit Good To Know Maine

In a more serious vein, some take issue with health claims the project makes.

"You'll get cancer from smoking cannabis,” Paul McCarrier says as an example.

McCarrier founded the advocacy group "Legalize Maine" and he owns a medical marijuana dispensary in Belfast.

"I think the exact language is ‘marijuana smoke contains many of the same cancer causing chemicals as tobacco smoke.’ While I am sure that it's factual, it's definitely not accurate, when we're looking at what doesn't contain certain chemicals that also cause cancer in our society,” says McCarrier.

McCarrier says that, overall, the site seems fact-based and comprehensive, but he adds that it should at least provide links to scientific research supporting its claims. And the entire campaign is devoid of scientific citations, although many of its health claims echo language the American Lung Association uses in its warnings about marijuana use.

Spencer says it's still early, and revisions to the site might be warranted.

"Certainly that's why something like social media can be really helpful for us, is we can launch our website and then get that kind of feedback,” she says.

Asked whether people under-21 who access the Facebook page might get a mixed message, given all the skeptical postings, Spencer did not directly address the question, saying only that the public has a right to comment, but she also says the state reserves the right to remove posts.

The campaign has a budget of $335,000 and will be live through February. After that, Spencer says, the state will review its success and decide whether to continue.

Originally published Nov. 20, 2018