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Russell back with pot legalization bill

Fresh off the general election, Maine Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, has reintroduced LD 1453, her bill to legalize marijuana in Maine.
"Essentially, I put in the same bill that I did before, there may be some modifications," she said Wednesday.
On Thursday, advocates of the legislation planned a teleconference on state marijuana reform bills. The call is scheduled to include Russell and Rhode Island Rep. Edith Ajello, D-District 3, Providence, another advocate of legalized marijuana.
In addition to Rhode Island and Maine, similar proposals will be submitted in at least two other states, Vermont and Massachusetts, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group.
Momentum appears to favor legalization, advocates say.
In the Nov. 6 election, "voters in the states of Colorado and Washington approved ballot initiatives to remove criminal penalties for adult marijuana use and regulate the substance in a manner similar to alcohol," the Marijuana Policy Project reported.
In Maine, it's unclear whether the state's 1999 embrace of medical marijuana will be followed by outright legalization.
"I think there's been a major culture shift since I introduced this bill in 2011," Russell said. "What we'll see is a lot more folks ready to talk about this issue."
Charles Wynott, nonprofit volunteer founder of Piefer Patients Alliance, a program of Atlantic Cannabis Incorporated, said he is encouraged by what he perceived to be a cultural shift in attitudes.
"Hopefully we have the momentum behind us to get this thing passed this year in the legislature. It would be great because we would be the first state in the nation to do it in the legislature," said Wynott, who organized the summertime Cannafest medical marijuana festival in Portland's Deering Oaks Park.
Morgan Fox, communications manager for Marijuana Policy Project, said marijuana legalization "is a mainstream bipartisan issue."
"I think it's definitely a sign that public opinion is changing. For a long time lawmakers have been far behind public opinion on marijuana legalization issues," he said.
Politicians can embrace the issue as never before, Fox said. And although he differentiated legalization and medical marijuana approval, Fox said attitudes on both are softening.
California was the first state to approve medical marijuana, but state regulations were slow to follow, hampering the program there, Fox said.
"States like Maine are different because they went about it a different way," he said.
"Maine's program is arguably one of the best in the country," he said.
While medical marijuana gains its legs, the issue of outright legalization finds adherents.
"The biggest argument is that keeping it illegal has failed at everything it intended to do," Fox said.
"We really need to start thinking about alternatives to our current policies because we're bleeding money and resources and we're not accomplishing anything," he said.
A wild card is how the federal government and U.S. attorneys approach enforcement, officials agreed.
Russell said, "Ideally, the feds will do their part and actually address this issue head on, but in the absence of doing that they should at the very least get out of the way."

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