Published Date Written by Craig LyonsAn initiative to let Portland residents decide if marijuana should be legal in the city came one step closer to the November ballot on Thursday.
Citizens for a Safer Portland — a coalition made up of volunteers, the Maine Green Independent Party, the Libertarian Party of Maine, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine and the Marijuana Policy Project — submitted 3,229 signatures to the city clerk's office for verification to place a referendum on the November ballot asking if Portland residents want to decriminalize the use and possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and accessory paraphernalia for adults who are 21 years or older.
The group needed to turn in 1,500 signatures that will be verified by the clerk's staff to qualify for being placed on the ballot.
"One thing has been made clear to me during this petition drive and will be made apparent to all in November: The residents of Maine's largest city strongly believe that the prohibition of marijuana for adults must end," said Tom MacMillan, chairman of the Portland Green Independent Committee.
The proposed ordinance, if enacted by voters, would decriminalize the possession and act of acquiring 2.5 ounces of marijuana for people 21 years of age or older, according to MacMillan, and prohibit the recreational use of the substance in public spaces. Secondary to the ordinance is a resolution that advocates for the state and federal governments to pursue the legalization of the possession and sale of marijuana.
"I think it's really important that our laws don't have a more negative impact on people's lives than the substance themselves," said City Councilor David Marshall.
Possession charges, in some jurisdictions, can be classified as a federal crime, said Marshall, and marijuana is considered a schedule one drug along with heroin. He said people can be blocked from attaining financial aid as students, housing assistance and a litany of other federal federal programs because of a conviction for marijuana possession.
Marshall said he signed on with the citizens initiative because he didn't think that the City Council would approve an ordinance like the one being proposed. He said most of the progress that has been made on marijuana has come from the voters.
"I don't think that the council's going to adopt this ordinance," he said. "... I am confident that the voters of Portland will adopt this ordinance."
Marijuana is safer than alcohol for both the consumer and the community, said David Boyer, Maine political director with the Marijuana Policy Project, and is less toxic and addictive than alcohol and tobacco. Most adults use marijuana for the same reasons they use alcohol, he said, and smoking marijuana doesn't make anyone any worse than a person who drinks a glass of wine.
Boyer said the campaign to get the ordinance passed will focus attention on making the public aware that marijuana is safer than alcohol and other substances, and that it's illogical to punish adults who use it recreationally.
The Portland referendum initiative, which launched in March, came on the heels of Rep. Diane Russell's bill in the Maine Legislature that aimed to create a taxation and regulatory structure around the decriminalization of marijuana. Russell's bill would have left it up to Maine voters to make the final decision on the legalization of marijuana through a state-wide referendum.
Russell's bill was voted down in committee by an 8-3 vote.