Pubdate: Thu, 30 May 2013
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2013 Bangor Daily News Inc.
Author: Jackie Farwell


Tom MacMillan PORTLAND, Maine - A push to legalize recreational
marijuana in Maine's largest city appears poised to go before Portland
voters this fall.

A coalition of political groups and activists who want make possession
of the drug legal for adults turned in a petition Thursday with more
than 3,200 signatures, twice the 1,500 signatures needed to place the
measure on the November ballot.

Led by the Portland Green Independent Committee, the coalition
submitted the petition to city officials, paving the way for voters to
weigh in on the citizen initiative this fall. The city has 15 days to
review the signatures and certify the petition.

The coalition, called Citizens for a Safer Portland, argue that pot
should be legalized in Portland because the drug is safer than tobacco
and alcohol. Decriminalizing marijuana also would free up law
enforcement to pursue more serious crimes, the groups said.

"The residents of Maine's largest city strongly support the end of
marijuana prohibition for adults, just as alcohol prohibition ended
decades ago," Tom MacMillan, chair of the Portland Green Independent
Committee, said Thursday at a city hall press event announcing the
signature collection.

The proposed ordinance would allow adults aged 21 and over to possess
up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana with city limits, while prohibiting
recreational use of the drug in public spaces, including school
grounds and on public transportation.

Portland police haven't taken a public stance on the legalization

The coalition also included the ACLU of Maine, the Libertarian Party
of Maine, and the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C.-based
organization that advocates for marijuana policy reform.

In 2005, Denver became the first major U.S. city to legalize
recreational marijuana.

Maine is one of 18 states where marijuana can be legally used for
medical reasons. If Portland voters approve the ordinance in November,
the city would still buck current state law that prohibits marijuana
possession for recreational use. The state law allowing medical
marijuana itself runs in conflict with federal law, which bans all use
of the drug.

David Marshall, a Portland city councilor who supports the ordinance,
said fears about legalization fueling greater marijuana use among
teens are unfounded. Rates of teen marijuana use in Maine have dropped
since 1999, when Maine legalized medical marijuana, and have continued
to wane since the state expanded the law in 2009, he said.

"Marijuana is safer than alcohol, marijuana is safer than tobacco,"
Marshall said. "We have hundreds of thousands of people in America
dying every year from alcohol-related illnesses or tobacco-related
illnesses. You do not see the same thing with marijuana."

Legalizing pot would make it more difficult for teens to get their
hands on the drug by subjecting marijuana purchases to the same kind
of identification checks required when buying alcohol, MacMillan said.

The move to legalize pot in Portland coincided with the introduction
of a bill in the state Legislature by Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland,
that would legalize, regulate and tax pot possession across Maine.
That bill failed in committee on May 14 by vote of 8-3.

The proposed Portland ordinance doesn't address how adults would buy
marijuana legally. MacMillan said the Portland City Council would
likely sort out distribution issues if voters pass the ordinance.

Past efforts to weaken enforcement of marijuana laws in Portland have
fallen short. In 2011, activists gathered signatures on a petition
seeking to make pot possession offenses the lowest enforcement
priority for Portland police. Proponents gathered more than 2,100
signatures, but the city clerk's office found the document was invalid
because only about 1,400 of the names were from verified Portland 
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