Last year, the City of Portland, Maine, became the first on the East Coast to vote to legalize marijuana possession. Now, the leaders of a neighboring city are fighting to keep their community from doing the same.
City council members in South Portland passed a resolution June 2 unanimously opposing attempts to legalize recreational weed in the city.
It’s a non-binding resolution, so any efforts to legalize marijuana are free to move forward. But it sends a message that proponents won’t have an easy time working with city officials.
Legal pot “is not a good thing for our community,” said South Portland Police Chief Ed Googins, who encouraged the vote. “It does not make our community safer, and it will not add to the quality of life in our community.”
In Portland, where legalization passed by a landslide last November, the police chief has vowed not to honor the wishes of voters. He has said he will continue to issue citations for cannabis possession, though such offenses are already decriminalized in Maine and are only punishable with civil fines.
Still, observers in other parts of the country have noted that communities that vote to legalize tend to see a substantial drop in marijuana arrests and citations. Once a community’s voters have made it clear they don’t support a legal policy, police can find it nearly impossible to enforce that policy.
The same may prove to be true in South Portland. Though no major legalization initiatives are yet underway, the Marijuana Policy Project plans to circulate petitions soon to get the issue on the November ballot there and in other local communities. Most of the residents who spoke at the city council meeting June 2 supported the idea.
“Maybe if they’re so worried about South Portland’s health, youth, and drunk driving, then they should pass a resolution advocating for alcohol prohibition,” said David Boyer, director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Maine.
Mayor Jerry Jalbert said council members passed the resolution as a way to send a message to the city’s youth – because everyone knows America’s teenagers take their social cues from municipal officials. Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a national anti-pot group, said it supported the vote.
“We stand in alliance with South Portland leaders and citizens in promoting health and safe communities for our youth to live, learn, grow, and thrive,” the group said in a press release. “The experiment in Colorado is failing. We don’t need to bring it to Maine.”
Boyer, for his part, said he didn’t think the resolution would make any difference in the future of weed law in South Portland. The Marijuana Policy Project is moving ahead as planned, he said.