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

As advocates of legal marijuana celebrated Tuesday’s big election victories in Portland and other U.S. cities, a national group launched a campaign in Maine to fight the spreading movement.

click image to enlarge

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

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

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

Additional Photos Below

Related headlines



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.

Portland’s 2-to-1 vote to adopt an ordinance making possession of small amounts of marijuana legal for adults sets up Maine to become the first state on the East Coast to end marijuana prohibition, advocates said Wednesday.

“I view the Portland victory as one of the best signs of what’s to come nationwide,” said Mason Tvert, communications director for the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, which helped finance the Portland campaign.

A state representative from Portland asked legislative leaders Wednesday to reconsider a bill that would put the question of legalizing marijuana to voters statewide. That bill was narrowly defeated in the last session.

Advocates will likely run into more opposition to legalization statewide than in Portland, where there was no organized opposition.

Late Tuesday night, the national nonprofit group Project SAM – Smart Approach to Marijuana – announced the launch of a state affiliate, SAM Maine. Project SAM is made up of concerned citizens, doctors and business leaders.

“Maine is on the brink of creating a massive marijuana industry that will inevitably target teens and other vulnerable populations,” former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, Project SAM’s national chairman, said in a written statement. “It’s time to clear the smoke and get the facts out about this drug.”

Portland’s ordinance, effective Dec. 6, will allow people 21 and older to possess as much as 2.5 ounces of marijuana within city limits.

The ordinance is largely symbolic because marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Under state law, medicinal marijuana is legal but possession for recreational use is a civil offense with fines of $350 to $1,000. Furnishing, selling or packaging the drug for sale can bring criminal charges.

Portland police plan to continue enforcing the state law.

The Marijuana Policy Project is considering using citizen petitions to get ordinances similar to Portland’s in front of voters in other Maine communities next year, said David Boyer, the group’s political director in Maine. The 2014 gubernatorial election will likely have high voter turnout, which should give the group a sense of what voters are thinking.

Boyer said the group will likely pursue a referendum in Lewiston, which has a large Franco-American population, and a few other communities.

Nationally, sentiment toward legalizing recreational marijuana is growing. This year, two national polls – by Pew and Gallup – showed a majority of Americans favoring legalization for the first time ever. Fifty-two percent favored it in a Pew poll released in the spring, and 58 percent supported it in Gallup’s poll last month.

The rapidly changing attitudes have prompted the Marijuana Policy Project to expand its number of legalization initiatives nationwide.

Earlier this year, the group announced that Maine is one of 10 states in which it is seeking to legalize marijuana by 2016. Three states have since been added to that list, Tvert said.

Ballot initiatives are being eyed for 2016 in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana and Nevada. A petition effort is already under way for a 2014 ballot measure in Alaska.

Legislative initiatives are being considered in Hawaii, Delaware, Maryland, Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

Sixty-seven percent of Portland voters supported the ordinance Tuesday, as several pro-pot measures passed at polls across the country.

In Michigan, several towns voted by 2-1 ratios to remove all penalties for marijuana possession.

In Colorado, 62 percent of residents voted in support of taxing marijuana sales. Recreational marijuana became legal in Colorado with a statewide vote last year.

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

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

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


Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)


More PPH Blogs