Published Date Written by David CarkhuffMembers of the Portland Green Independent Committee plan to begin collecting signatures on a petition to legalize marijuana in the city, tentatively with the goal of placing a proposed ordinance before voters this fall.
The Portland Green Independent Committee — Portland's branch of the Maine Green Independent Party — announced its plans Monday, although the petition language remains under review by municipal legal officials, according to Tom MacMillan of Portland, committee chair.
"We are still waiting to hear back from corporation counsel," MacMillan said Monday. "We are going to begin collecting signatures soon on a citizens' initiative to legalize marijuana in the city of Portland."
City Councilor David Marshall said public polls now show that half of Americans support legalization and 70 percent support the medical use of marijuana.
"Marijuana has really become a very much mainstream topic for Americans, there's been a huge surge in support over the last decade or so to get to this point. We really need to look at drug policy in general in this country," Marshall said.
"We should probably see some of those petitions on the streets next week," Marshall said.
The ordinance would be voted on in November, McMillan predicted, based on the existing timeline. Proponents will have 80 days to collect 1,500 valid signatures, so McMillan foresaw submitting signatures this spring.
The ordinance language calls for legalization of marijuana for those 21 and older, similar to how alcohol is regulated, with limits on use in public spaces, school grounds and other locations. The draft ordinance also stipulates that the new regulations not interfere with medical patients on medical marijuana, MacMillan said.
"I think there's momentum from the work that Colorado and Washington state did by legalizing marijuana on the state level," he said.
Maine Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, has formally introduced LR-21, "An Act to Regulate and Tax Marijuana," resubmitting legislation from previous sessions.
"Hopefully, they'll pass it at the state level, but it needs to happen regardless. I think it's a long time coming," MacMillan said.
Two years ago, the Green Party collected more than 2,100 signatures on a petition to make marijuana enforcement the lowest priority for local police, but too many signatures were found invalid by the city to qualify the measure for the ballot. McMillan said during that campaign, he collected signatures, and "what people told me is the lowest legal priority sounds good, but why not just legalize it?"
Marshall recalled the group had less than half the amount of time typically afforded to petitioners when pursuing the lowest-priority enforcement measure, and argued, "There was no shortage of support in the public."
Asked how Portland police would respond to a marijuana-legalization ordinance, Marshall said the city already has precedent of being at odds with state or federal law.
"The police are already in the position of having medical marijuana being in conflict with federal law and having to navigate how to deal with that particular situation," Marshall said, referring to Maine's medical marijuana law.
"The police are already in a difficult spot with enforcement. ... I don't think this makes that situation any worse," Marshall said. "This particular petition would be for legal possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and being able to possess paraphernalia."
Marshall added, "The penalty for possession of marijuana and paraphernalia is very much like running a stop sign, there isn't a harsh penalty for it, but it is still a crime."
While over 20 states have legalized marijuana or have allowed medical use of marijuana, "the federal government is ultimately going to need to make some decisions around it," Marshall acknowledged.
"I would say that if there is a conflict with state and federal law, state and federal law is what ultimately has the authority," he said. "The important part of this particular petition is it keeps the debate in the spotlight and helps put pressure on the legislature to act on this particular issue."