November 20, 2013

State lawmaker to take third try at Maine marijuana bill

Rep. Diane Russell is hoping to use the momentum from Portland’s vote, but not everyone’s supportive.

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

State Rep. Diane Russell is hoping that Portland voters’ decision this month to legalize the recreational use of marijuana will propel her third attempt to pass a bill allowing the sale and taxation of the drug statewide.

But the group that petitioned for the new Portland ordinance – as well as marijuana caregivers, dispensary owners and youth drug prevention advocates –don’t want to see the Portland Democrat’s bill move forward.

The state’s Legislative Council is slated to decide Thursday whether to allow Russell’s proposal, and others, to be taken up as “emergency bills” in the next session, which starts in January.

“There’s no sense we have an emergency on our hands,” said David Marshall, a Portland city councilor and a leader in the local Green Party’s push to legalize pot in the city.

Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, a trade association representing people who grow and provide medical marijuana, sent out a letter asking people to urge their legislators not to support the bill.

“Time is needed to develop a good law that generates revenue for the state and benefits as many Maine people as possible,” it said.

Russell’s last two marijuana legalization bills, one proposed in 2011 and the other last spring, were both referred to the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, which voted them down.

The new proposal would impose a 10 percent sales tax and 15 percent excise tax on marijuana. That revenue would go toward public school construction, addiction treatment and the prevention of underage sales and usage, among other programs.

Russell held a news conference Tuesday at Portland City Hall to talk about her bill and a new group supporting it, called A Maine Approach Coalition.

In response to the announcement, two groups – Smart Approaches to Marijuana and 21 Reasons, which advocates for drug-free youth – countered suggestions that the legalization of marijuana could cut down on pot usage by young people.

Citing statistics from the Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey, 21 Reasons pointed out that most young people report that alcohol is easy for them to obtain.

Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: lbridgers@pressherald.comTwitter: @lesliebridgers

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