July 17, 2013

Bill Nemitz: Portland voters will legalize marijuana

By Bill Nemitz bnemitz@pressherald.com
Columnist

(Continued from page 1)

Meaning no looking the other way? No, whaddya call it, police discretion?

"They have that now," replied Brennan. "And I would suspect that they don't spend most of their time and resources chasing after people who have two or three marijuana cigarettes or half an ounce of marijuana in their pocket."

(Agreed Boyer from the Marijuana Policy Project, "That's why we give them shiny badges and guns, because they're smart enough to use discretion.")

Brennan, for one, isn't all that impressed with the oft-repeated argument that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol and thus should enjoy the same legal status. Used to excess, he noted, either substance can do real harm.

Nor, conversely, is Hizzoner a big fan of marijuana laws that disproportionately target minority populations and fill up jails and prisons with people "who shouldn't be there."

So where does that leave Brennan as his city, once again, goes where no other Maine municipality has gone before? (See: Portland's 2001 referendum, passed 52 to 48 percent, calling for statewide universal health insurance.)

"I haven't made a firm decision," Brennan replied. "But at this point I'd be leaning toward probably supporting it."

That said, Brennan quickly added, "This isn't an issue I feel I'm going to jump out in front on. Nor do I think passage of this is crucial to the future of Portland one way or the other."

That could change in a big way if, as Boyer, Marshall and other marijuana advocates predict, Maine voters see a pot referendum on the statewide ballot sometime around 2016.

A bill to allow recreational use, sponsored by Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, did surprisingly well in the Maine House last month, falling only four votes short of final passage.

Portland's ordinance, after all, contains nary a word about taxing the 2.5 ounces of pot each adult could possess at any given time. Russell's proposed statute, on the other hand, would have imposed a $50-per-ounce excise tax on pot sales from licensed cultivation facilities, $35 of which would have gone into the state's general fund.

And lest that sound like a pipe dream, consider what's about to happen in Colorado, one of two states (along with Washington) where voters endorsed recreational use of marijuana last fall: Once the excise and sales tax revenues from pot sales start rolling in, the first $40 million raised each year will go into Colorado's public school capital assistance fund.

So go ahead, Portland, lead the way on this one. And when the rest of Maine finally catches up with you, feel free to add yet another variation to that all-purpose branding slogan of yours:

"Portland. Yes. Drug dealers go broke here."

 

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

 

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