Portland city officials on Friday sought to clarify confusion about whether possession and use of marijuana is actually legal in Maine’s largest city, following this week’s election results.
On Tuesday, voters overwhelmingly supported legalized marijuana, but the city says that vote will have no practical affect, since state and federal prohibition laws supersede local ordinances. The city posted a “Frequently-Asked-Questions” page on its website to reiterate that interpretation, and answer other questions raised by the vote.
The Portland Green Independent Committee, meanwhile, issued a press release Friday calling on the city to respect the local ordinance, which was approved by 67 percent of voters. The Greens, which collected more than 2,500 signatures to put the measure to voters, said they will meet with city officials to discuss enforcement and education measures.
“The vote on Tuesday was a clear indication that Portland residents want our police force to stop punishing adult marijuana users,” said Tom MacMillan, chair of the Portland Green Independent Committee. “Portland officials must be accountable to the will of the people.”
The ordinance, which takes effect Dec. 6, would allow adults over the age of 21 to possess and use up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and paraphernalia for recreational purposes. Marijuana cannot be used in public under the ordinance, and it is still illegal to buy or sell marijuana.
On Thursday, Portland Mayor Michael Brennan said the city would not try to block the new ordinance from taking effect despite the conflict with state and federal prohibition laws.
“We talked about it and we have decided not to (challenge the ordinance) at this point,” Brennan said.
The city posted its interpretation of the ordinance on its website Friday.
The city website says the citizen-initiated ordinance cannot be changed or amended until it’s been in effect for five years. After that, City Council can change the ordinance after holding a public hearing.
The city re-enforces the fact that police can still issue civil summonses for possession that carry fines between $350 to $1,000, or even arrest people under certain circumstances.
The city also compares the city ordinance to state and federal laws — all of which are in conflict with one another.
Possession of marijuana is a criminal offense under federal law. A first offense is punishable by up to a year in jail and a minimum fine of $1,000. Punishment increases with subsequent offenses. There is no waiver for medical use of the drug.
State law, however, allows possession and use of marijuana for medical reasons. Also, Maine is one of 16 states that has decriminalized marijuana possession. That means having up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana is a civil — not a criminal — offense, unless it is packaged for sale or being furnished.
Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck has said officers will continue to use discretion and good judgment when enforcing state marijuana laws.
Portland police respond to more than 85,000 calls for service a year. From July 2012 to July 2013, police issued 54 summonses for marijuana possession. During the previous year, 68 summonses were issued.
City Councilor David Marshall, a Green Independent, said in a written statement he was encouraged that marijuana summonses have decreased by 26 percent.
“The voters expect the public and the police to comply with the new ordinance,” Marshall said. “The election results are a mandate that supports the discretion police are using in regards to adult marijuana enforcement.”
Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: