PORTLAND — Legalizing marijuana would simply be recognition of “the world as it is,” the lead sponsor of a bill to make the drug legal and taxed in Maine said today.

Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, has introduced a bill that would make marijuana legal, allow people to grow small amounts for personal use and subject sales to a 7 percent tax, with the revenue directed to law enforcement, agricultural programs, land preservation, weatherization and higher education.

A number of groups and individuals supporting the measure have banded together as “Maine FIrst,” in recognition that the state would be the first to legalize marijuana if the legislation is passed and signed by the governor. The organization held a press conference at Portland City Hall this morning to unveil the legislation.

Russell said the sales tax could generate $8.5 million a year and the measure would also reduce law enforcement and prison costs. She also said the state could benefit from taxes on income made by those growing and selling pot, but not reporting their earnings because it’s derived from illegal activity.

She said the law also proposes “safe haven” no-sales zones around schools and contains fines for selling or marketing marijuana to those under 21 years old.

Russell said legalizing marijuana would allow law enforcement and anti-addiction efforts to be focused on more dangerous drugs.

“Painkillers are the drugs killing Maine people,” she said. “Marijuana isn’t the gateway (to more dangerous drugs), the drug dealer is.”

Russell’s blll has been referred to the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, but no hearings have been scheduled yet.


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