PORTLAND – A quick survey of any Portland Press Herald issue reveals that Portland police have a lot on their plate; vandalism, graffiti, an increase in violent crime and the growing narcotics problem, to name just a few pressing issues.

Given our limited financial resources, the need to protect medical marijuana users not covered under the current dispensary laws, and our schizophrenic national marijuana laws, a group of Portland residents has begun petitioning for sensible marijuana reform in our city.

Our group, Sensible Portland, began petitioning in late May for one simple reason: The laws governing the use of marijuana are fundamentally broken. They neither protect those who should not use it nor allow those who need it to easily access it. Hundreds of Portland voters who have signed the petition have so far eagerly agreed.

The proposed citizen ordinance would make the possession of marijuana the “lowest legal priority” for Portland police, and for a very good reason; Portland has a major narcotics problem, and all of our city’s limited policing resources need to be used to fight far more troubling substances than marijuana, like crack cocaine, heroine and methamphetamine.

Money and time spent on arresting, fining and imprisoning marijuana users is a waste of precious taxpayer resources and does not reflect our values in Portland.

Similar “lowest-priority” initiatives have passed in cities across the country, including Seattle, Oakland and Denver, as well as towns in such places as Arkansas, Missouri and Montana. It is the fiscally responsible and most humane option for our city.

Two years after a lowest-priority initiative passed in Seattle, the city’s attorney, an initially outspoken critic, said, “It hasn’t been a problem. You can tell by the numbers.” The legislation significantly reduced the number of people punished for possessing small amounts of marijuana, resulting in a 90 percent drop within two years.

The proposed ordinance that hundreds of Portland voters have signed is a step in the right direction for our city as well. The lowest-priority law will protect medicinal marijuana users in Portland who fear registering with the state because of privacy issues and concerns of being stigmatized and targeted as criminals.

Such fears are based in reality, given the recent statements by the Obama administration warning of prosecutions and raids on medical marijuana users and dispensaries. This is a reversal of a pledge from the president, who, when he was first elected, said he would not enforce such laws strictly.

It is time for us take the reins as citizens and stop the madness of decades of destructive and wasteful marijuana policy.

A clear ordinance codifying marijuana as the lowest legal priority of our city’s police force makes good sense for both financial and humanitarian reasons.

Our police force has far more serious issues to address than marijuana possession, and we look forward to enacting a more sane marijuana policy in Portland.

– Special to the Press Herald