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

Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, has introduced a bill to 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.

Russell spoke about the plan at a press conference at City Hall, with about a dozen supporters and a lone protester. Backers of the bill call their group “Maine First,” since they want the state to be the first to legalize, regulate and tax the marijuana industry.

The bill’s chances of passing aren’t good.

The Legislature already has killed two bills in this session that would have increased the amount of marijuana that people could possess without facing criminal charges.

Possession of small amounts of marijuana is now a civil, not criminal, violation under Maine laws.

The legalization bill would allow Mainers to get licenses to grow larger amounts. Sales would be taxed at 7 percent, which Russell estimates would yield about $8.5 million a year for community policing programs, agriculture programs, higher education, weatherization and land preservation.

Sales, at least initially, would be handled by medical marijuana dispensaries or licensed primary caregivers, who are allowed to assist patients who have doctors’ prescriptions for medical marijuana, Russell said.

Legalization would save money by allowing police to concentrate on more serious crimes and reducing prison costs, she said.

“We’re dealing with the world as it is,” Russell said of the legalization effort.

The bill contains provisions to limit the ability of people younger than 21 to obtain marijuana, with penalties for selling or marketing marijuana to anyone under 21 and no-sale areas around schools.

Russell portrayed marijuana as a drug that’s relatively easy to get, noting that teenagers can often buy it from friends.

She said marijuana isn’t physically addictive and doesn’t necessarily lead users to “graduate” to stronger and more dangerous drugs — while illegal drug dealers push those stronger drugs on customers who come to them for marijuana.

“Marijuana is not the gateway, the drug dealer is,” she said.

Marijuana is the state’s most valuable cash crop, worth an estimated $122 million a year, said Jonathan Leavitt, director of the Maine Marijuana Policy Initiative, which is part of the Maine First organization.

Leavitt said the state’s illegal marijuana crop is worth more than iconic products such as potatoes and blueberries.

Russell said her bill has a handful of co-sponsors in the House and has been forwarded to the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, but no hearing has been scheduled. 

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]

 


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