Pubdate: Fri, 06 Dec 2013
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2013 Bangor Daily News Inc.
Author: Seth Koenig


PORTLAND, Maine - An ordinance legalizing possession of marijuana for
nonmedical use in Maine's largest city goes into effect Friday.

Last month, Portland voters approved by a wide margin the legalization
measure, which allows individuals 21 or older to carry 2.5 ounces or
less of the drug according to city rules.

While medical use of marijuana has been legal in Maine since 1999, and
larger scale medical marijuana dispensaries have been legal since
2009, the Portland ordinance is the first in the state to legalize pot
for recreational purposes.

Possession and recreational use of marijuana remains illegal under
state law, and all uses of the drug continue to be outlawed under
federal law.

Marijuana advocates have pledged to use Portland as a springboard for
a statewide referendum on the issue in 2016 - if they can't get the
state Legislature to legalize the drug sooner - and are engaging in
what they describe as an education campaign on the subject.

"The Portland initiative is a major step toward broader marijuana
policy reform in Maine," said David Boyer of the Marijuana Policy
Project in a statement Thursday. "It is time to end the failed policy
of marijuana prohibition in Maine and replace it with a more sensible
system in which marijuana is regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol."

On Thursday night, the pro-legalization Portland Green Independent
Committee was scheduled to hold a forum on the city ordinance, which
takes effect 30 days after the Nov. 5 vote.

"We realize that there is an immense amount of public interest in the
legalization ordinance, and we need to make sure everyone is familiar
with the new ordinance and how it interacts with state and federal
law," said Tom MacMillan, chairman of the committee, in a statement.

The ordinance allows marijuana use on private property but continues
to ban it in public places, where smoking of any kind is generally

The ordinance also gives landlords the authority to regulate pot use
in their buildings.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck has repeatedly stated his
department will continue to enforce state law, which supersedes the
local ordinance. But he has maintained that marijuana law enforcement
has long been a low priority for city police, noting that out of about
85,000 calls for service last year, Portland officers handed out only
54 civic summonses for marijuana offenses.

Likewise, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills has said the local
ordinance does not override the state and federal laws her office is
obligated to follow, and she views the Portland referendum as
"somewhat advisory in nature."

Ordinance backers, including Boyer and City Councilor David Marshall,
have urged law enforcement officials to respect "the will of the
voters" in the city.

This week, Boyer lauded the stance of police in Jackson, Mich., who
announced that whenever possible they would adhere to a newly passed
ordinance there decriminalizing possession of one ounce of marijuana.

"We hope city officials will follow the spirit of the law and stop
punishing adults for simply using a less harmful substance than
alcohol," said Boyer. "Their counterparts in Michigan have
demonstrated that it is possible. We expect Portland officials to
either follow their example or explain why they are choosing to
continue needlessly arresting people in defiance of the voters."

Marijuana advocates have also pointed to an August letter from the
U.S. Department of Justice - in which federal enforcers said they
won't interfere with new marijuana laws in Washington and Colorado as
long as the drug is strictly regulated - as a positive sign for
Portland as well.

Opponents of the move, including the Maine Chiefs of Police
Association, argue that legalizing marijuana will exacerbate substance
abuse problems that feed other crimes, and that overseeing regulation
and distribution of pot would be an expensive and time-consuming task
for overburdened state agencies.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt