South Portland has certified a petition to declare it legal for adults to possess small amounts of marijuana within the city, and the City Council is scheduled to take up the issue at its August 4 meeting, the city clerk’s office said Wednesday.

Advocates who are working to legalize pot in selected Maine communities, and ultimately statewide, submitted more than 1,500 signatures to the city on July 14. The City Clerk’s office has since validated more than 959 of the signatures – the minimum number required to force a citywide referendum.

The South Portland City Council could vote on its own to adopt the citizen initiative, but is instead certain to send the question to voters in November. The City Council, as well as the city’s police chief, has already declared its opposition to the legalization effort in the city.

Marijuana possession is illegal under state and federal law, so declaring such possession legal in a city ordinance is expected to have more symbolic and political value than practical effect.

Last November, Portland became the first city on the East Coast to declare small-scale marijuana possession legal, but the police chief there warned that enforcement of state law would not change.

Advocates have said the Portland vote was a first step toward a statewide legalization referendum, perhaps in 2016. Now, in addition to pushing for a vote in South Portland, legalization advocates also are working toward referendums this fall in York and Lewiston as a way of building support and momentum.

“Most people agree law enforcement officials have more important things to do than punish adults for using a substance that is less harmful than alcohol,” David Boyer, Maine diretor of the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a written statement Wednesday. “If this measure passes, police can use their discretion to stop arresting adults for simple marijuana possession.”

The South Portland proposal would declare it legal for adults 21 years of age and older to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana. The ballot measure also would include a statement in support of regulating and taxing marijuana like alcohol at the state level.

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