September 12, 2013

Advocates launch drive to make marijuana legal in Portland

Passage of a city ordinance would be the first step toward statewide legalization.

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Buoyed by the federal government's relaxed stance toward states that legalize marijuana, advocates Thursday officially kicked off a campaign to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for adults in Portland.

Today's poll: Marijuana in Portland

Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana use for adults in Portland?

Yes

No

View Results

click image to enlarge

In this in December 2012 file photo, Rachel Schaefer of Denver smokes marijuana on the opening night of Club 64, a marijuana-specific social club, now that recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado and Washington state. Buoyed by the federal government's relaxed stance toward states that legalize marijuana, advocates Thursday officially kicked off a campaign to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for adults in Portland, Maine. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

Supporters of this fall's referendum, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine and the Marijuana Policy Project, said passage of Portland's ordinance would be the first step in a statewide legalization effort.

"This initiative is a top ACLU priority for this year," said executive director Shenna Bellows. "We are dedicated to legalizing marijuana statewide because we think the outcome would be reducing Maine's prison and jail population."

Voters will be asked at the polls Nov. 5 to adopt a city ordinance that would allow anyone over the age of 21 to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana.

Bellows said the ACLU of Maine is focusing on reducing the state's prison population over the next two to five years, and that legalizing marijuana for adults and nonviolent users is one way to do that. "The data demonstrates the war on drugs has failed and that the drug laws are a major driver of our incarceration rates," Bellows said.

It's unclear whether there will be any organized opposition to the measure.

Recreational marijuana use is illegal under state and federal law. Maine legalized medical marijuana in 1999 and significantly expanded the program a decade later. Today, the state has a regulated network of medical marijuana growers and caregivers, including a dispensary in Portland.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck has said his department is taking a wait-and-see approach regarding enforcement issues that may arise if recreational pot becomes legal under Portland's ordinance but remains illegal under state and federal law.

The Maine Chiefs of Police Association is generally opposed to any recreational marijuana use in Maine, but won't take a formal position on the Portland ordinance, according to Executive Director Robert Schwartz.

"You can say what you want, but it's still against the (state and federal) law," Schwartz said.

Schwartz also pushed back against the notion that marijuana arrests are clogging the jails and courts, because possession of less than an ounce and a half is civil offense, typically enforced with a summons, not an arrest. "Those things are overblown as far as we're concerned," he said of the ACLU's claims.

Hillary Lister, of the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, said legalization is important, especially for those who cannot afford to go to a doctor and get a recommendation for medical use.

Proponents of the proposed ordinance argued that it is in line with new federal enforcement priorities.

Earlier this month, the Justice Department announced that it would not sue Washington or Colorado over plans to tax and regulate pot sales for adults as long as the states adhere to federal priorities that include preventing drugged driving and keeping marijuana away from kids and off the black market.

City Councilor David Marshall said the proposed ordinance in Portland does not allow anyone to use marijuana in public or while operating a vehicle. It also would allow police or city staff to help federal agents investigate and arrest people suspected of interstate trafficking or supplying it to minors, he said.

The ordinance does not allow for the sale of marijuana, but it does allow an age-appropriate person to "engage in activities for the purpose of ascertaining the possession of marijuana and paraphernalia," according to a summary distributed Thursday.

(Continued on page 2)

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Today's poll: Marijuana in Portland

Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana use for adults in Portland?

Yes

No

View Results