PORTLAND – The City Council voted unanimously Monday to hold a public hearing July 15 on whether the city should legalize recreational use of marijuana.

The ordinance is proposed by a group of residents who collected more than 3,200 signatures to put the issue to voters. Only 1,500 valid signatures were needed to put the question on the ballot. Last week, the City Clerk’s Office certified 2,508 signatures.

The proposed ordinance would allow adults 21 and older to possess as much as 2.5 ounces of marijuana.

It would prohibit smoking of marijuana in public and allow landlords to prohibit it in their apartments.

City attorney Danielle West-Chuhta said the council can take one of three courses of action after holding the hearing: adopt the ordinance proposed by the residents; put the ordinance to voters; or offer an alternative alongside the ordinance proposed by residents.

If the council puts the ordinance to voters, a vote must be held within 90 days, West-Chuhta said. The city could wait until November or hold a special election, she said.

It’s unclear what effect — other than a political statement — the ordinance would have. Typically, a municipality cannot adopt an ordinance that runs contrary to state and federal laws.

Marijuana is illegal under federal law. It is also illegal under Maine law, unless it is recommended by a doctor to treat certain illnesses.

If the ordinance passes, it will put Portland police in a tough spot.

Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said before Monday’s meeting that police are taking a wait-and-see approach to the citizen-led effort.

“It’s very difficult, from a law enforcement perspective, to answer questions about what we would do one way or the other when it’s purely hypothetical at this point,” Sauschuck said.

Last fall, voters in Washington state and Colorado approved legal recreational use of marijuana. Supporters in Maine said a similar vote in Portland would create momentum to do the same here.

The Maine Legislature recently rejected a statewide referendum to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana much as it does alcohol.

 

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

rbillings@mainetoday.com

Twitter: @randybillings