SOUTH PORTLAND — Voters will decide in November whether they want to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in South Portland, putting the city in position to be among the first few on the East Coast to legalize the drug.

The City Council voted unanimously Monday night to put the question on the ballot, but not before the majority of councilors voiced their opposition to legalizing marijuana. The proposed ordinance was brought forward through a petition, meaning city councilors could either adopt it as written or send it to voters.

Councilor Maxine Beecher said she is “vehemently opposed” to legalizing recreational marijuana, but as a city councilor she is obligated to move the citizen-initiated petition to referendum.

“To me, it’s not so much if we support legalization of recreational marijuana,” said Councilor Tom Blake. “The question is whether we abide by the wishes of 1,100 of our residents (who signed the petition) and let all of our residents decide.”

The petition calls for allowing people 21 and older to carry an ounce of marijuana without penalty. The City Council will hold another public hearing on the matter and a final vote on Aug. 18.

South Portland will likely not be alone in voting on the issue in November. Legalization advocates are pushing for similar votes in York and Lewiston to legalize marijuana use by adults.


The campaign is being led by David Boyer of Maine’s chapter of the Marijuana Policy Project, which helped pass a ballot initiative in Portland last year that legalized recreational marijuana use in the city by people 21 and older. The group says it has targeted South Portland, Lewiston and York as test communities that could be valuable indicators of how Maine will view a statewide legalization effort.

York selectmen voted July 28 against putting the legalization proposal on the November ballot, but supporters are collecting more signatures there in an attempt to force the ballot question. Advocates have until Friday to submit 859 valid petition signatures in Lewiston.

The proposals would have more political significance than practical effect, since marijuana remains illegal under state and federal laws. Legalization advocates hope the efforts build momentum toward a statewide legalization vote in 2016.

The push for municipal votes comes as polls show Americans are increasingly supportive of legalization, and just after The New York Times published an editorial in support of letting states open the door to legal marijuana use while arguing that the war on drugs has been a failure when it comes to pot.

In 2012, Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize recreational use of marijuana. In November 2013, Portland became the first city on the East Coast to pass a referendum declaring recreational use by adults to be legal.

Last year was the first time that a clear majority of Americans – 58 percent – said in an annual survey that the drug should be legalized. When the Gallup polling company first asked the question in 1969, only 12 percent favored legalization.


On June 2, the South Portland council made a symbolic, preemptive gesture by passing a non-binding resolution against the campaign, calling marijuana a substance that poses a danger to public health, safety and the future of the city’s young people.

The council resolution cited a survey of South Portland High School students last year by Maine Integrated Youth Health Surveys, in which 27.5 percent of high school students said they used marijuana at least once in a 30-day period, compared with 21.6 percent for the rest of the state.

The resolution also cited a recent analysis by the National Institute on Drug Abuse that found the potency of marijuana has reached its highest levels since scientific analysis of the drug began. The institute found that levels of THC, the principal psychoactive constituent of the cannabis plant, had risen from 4 percent in the 1980s to 15 percent in 2012.

On Monday, the majority of the 11 people who spoke during the public hearing supported legalization or letting voters decide. Three people spoke against legalization, citing concerns about public safety and the effect the local law would have on youths.

Lt. Frank Clark of the South Portland Police Department said normalizing the use of marijuana will likely lead to more use by teenagers.

“As the perceived risk of using marijuana goes down … the use by our youth goes up,” he said.


Resident Rosemarie De Angelis, who spoke in favor of legalization, said the issue should be put to voters.

“To say we don’t need it here is to suggest we don’t have it here now,” she said. “By not legalizing marijuana, we leave the sale of it to drug dealers on the corner.”

Scott Gagnon, director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine, said it was not a surprise that the City Council voted to put the question on the ballot, but he believes the initiative will be rejected by voters.

Boyer, of the Marijuana Policy Project, is excited that all city voters will be able to weigh in on the issue.

“We’re glad they respect the democratic process in letting South Portland residents decide if adults should be allowed to use a substance that is objectively safer than alcohol,” he said.

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