Legalizing Marijuana in Portland
Voters in Portland, Maine, will have their own say on the future of marijuana in their city.
The Portland City Council considered an ordinance in July that would have made pot legal in the city, but decided to pass the issue to voters instead. The council voted 5-1 to bypass the measure, which was signed by more than 2,500 residents, and put it on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Medical marijuana is legal in Maine and recreational pot is decriminalized. Possession of less than two and a half ounces is a civil violation, similar to a traffic ticket, and carries a maximum fine of $600. It doesn’t appear on a violator’s criminal record.
But pot is still illegal at the federal level, and police in Portland still issue civil pot citations: 53 over the last year, 68 in the year before that. City council members want to stop that. The council members who voted against sending the proposal to voters, John Coyne, said he worried the city might lose funding if it flouted state and federal law.
Legalization found strong support at City Hall. Most of the people who spoke at the city hearing supported the measure. They cited marijuana’s safety record compared to alcohol and pointed out its limited potential for addiction.
They were joined not only by legalization proponents and leaders of the marijuana community but by members of the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which advocates for more just law enforcement policies. They spoke at a press conference on June 15.
A recent report by the ACLU found that African-Americans are arrested for marijuana offenses at far greater rates than Caucasians everywhere in the United States, despite the fact that both races use the same amounts of pot.
This holds true in Maine, where blacks are twice as likely as whites to be arrested for weed possession. The disparity is less in Cumberland County, which includes Portland, but it’s much greater – five to one – in neighboring York County.
Ben Talbot, an ACLU board member in Maine, said the state’s “aggressive enforcement” amounts to a waste of money that removes people from their families and wrecks lives. Maine spends $9 million a year on marijuana enforcement.
“Those are taxpayer dollars that could be spent on hospitals, schools or better solutions,” Talbot said. “The truth is the war on marijuana is a failure.”
City Council member David Marshall said he believes the measure will pass “by a large majority.” He said he hopes Portland will set a precedent that will lead Maine to follow in the footsteps of Washington and Colorado by legalizing recreational pot outright.