Politics

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.

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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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DETAILS ABOUT THE MARIJUANA ORDINANCE

CURRENT MAINE LAW

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.

PORTLAND’S NEW ORDINANCE

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.

THE IMPACT

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.

(Continued on page 2)

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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

  


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