November 7, 2013

Portland pot vote seen as a precursor for the state

Meanwhile, a national group that opposes the trend is stepping into the debate to ‘get the facts out about this drug.’

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Portland City Councilor David Marshall speaks at the Portland Yes on 1 celebration at Brian Boru on Tuesday night.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

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David Boyer, Maine political director of the Marijuana Policy Project speaks at Portland’s Yes on One celebration at Brian Boru in Portland Tuesday.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

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Possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana is a civil, not a criminal, offense. Offenders are issued a civil citation for possessing up to 1.25 ounces of marijuana, which carries fines of $350 to $600. Possession of 1.25 ounces to 2.5 ounces is a civil violation carrying fines of $700 to $1,000.

Criminal charges may be brought if that marijuana is packaged for sale or furnished to another person. Police Chief Michael Sauschuck put it this way: If you smoke a joint, it’s a civil violation; if you pass it to the person next to you, it’s a criminal violation for furnishing; and if that person pays for the joint, it’s a criminal charge for selling marijuana.


The ordinance legalizes possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana by adults age 21 and older within city limits.

It does not legalize the sale or purchase of marijuana, but allows anyone 21 or older to “engage in activities for the purposes of ascertaining the possession of marijuana and paraphernalia.”

It prohibits recreational use of marijuana in public spaces, on school grounds or on transportation infrastructure, and lets landlords prohibit tenants from using marijuana on their property.


Marijuana remains illegal under federal law and state law.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck says the ordinance won’t affect how police enforce state marijuana laws.

Supporters see passage as a step toward legalization at the state and then national levels.

The ordinance requires the mayor to report on police enforcement of marijuana laws to the City Council on an annual basis.

It also stakes out Portland’s position in support of regulating and taxing marijuana like alcohol.

The Marijuana Policy Project sees Maine following Colorado. In 2005, nearly 54 percent of voters in Denver voted to legalize marijuana in the city. The state followed suit last year, when 55 percent of residents voted to legalize marijuana.

Also last year, voters in Washington state approved legalization.

This summer, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it would not try to block Washington and Colorado from allowing marijuana.

The Maine Legislature has rejected two bills to legalize and tax recreational marijuana. In the last legislative session, a proposal by Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, to put the question to voters failed by four votes in the House and 17 votes in the Senate. All of Portland’s eight-member legislative delegation supported Russell’s bill, except for Rep. Mark Dion and Senate President Justin Alfond.

On Wednesday, Russell sent a letter to House Speaker Mark Eves, asking the Legislative Council to reconsider a bill that would ask voters statewide to legalize marijuana. Eves, a Democrat, chairs the council, which decides which bills will be taken up in the next session.

Russell said she is working on a bill to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol and establish a youth prevention task force.

The level of support for legalization in Portland – the state’s largest city – makes advocates confident that the state will follow.

“It’s quite likely we will see Maine emerge as one of the first – if not the first – East Coast state to end marijuana prohibition,” said Tvert, with the Marijuana Policy Project. “This was a significant victory.”

SAM Maine, which opposes legalization, is led by Scott Gagnon, a longtime prevention worker in Maine. Gagnon said the group’s goal is to have a balanced, fully informed conversation about marijuana.

Today’s strains of marijuana are much more potent than those of a decade ago, so it is more addictive, Gagnon said.

In addition to opposing legalization, the group has outlined four goals: inform public policy; prevent the establishment of a “Big Marijuana” industry; find ways to achieve medicinal benefits of marijuana without the smoke or psychoactive elements; and reduce the unintended consequences of current marijuana policies.

The group began to form in response to Russell’s most recent bill.

“When the Portland referendum came out, it underscored the importance of getting organized,” Gagnon said. “The conversation (in Portland) was really one-sided.”

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:rbillings@pressherald.comrbillings@pressherald.com Twitter: @randybillings@randybillings

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Additional Photos

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Belly dancer Whitley “Nabintu” Marshall dances to a reggae band as proponents of Portland’s Yes on One celebrate Tuesday at Brian Boru in Portland.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer


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