Portland, Maine voters this November are being asked to legalize the possession (not the purchase or sale, mind you) of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for adults over the age of 21 in the city. Currently, that amount is decriminalized with no jail time and a maximum $600 fine.
While the law change really won't changemuch, news reports this week tout Portland as a test-case for future East Coast cities and states thinking about similar progressive marijuana laws. But is it?
If passed, marijuana possession of up to 2.5 ounces in the city would be legal, but as it is right now marijuana possession in Portland is decriminalized already. The new law changes still would keep cultivation, sales and purchases illegal.
We're not saying that it isn't a good idea, but what exactly is it legalizing? You still have to get your herb from somewhere and cultivation would remain crimes in the state with anywhere from six months to ten years in prison and up to $20,000 in fines.
So, how then is this a new test case for the entire East Coast? The Marijuana Policy Project, which has lobbied hard for the change as well as recreational cannabis sales in other states including Colorado, has their usual talking points.
"I think there's national implications, keeping the momentum that Washington and Colorado started last November in ending marijuana prohibition," David Boyer, the organization's political director in Maine, told the New York Daily News. "This is just the next domino."
"I think more people than ever before recognize the fact that marijuana is actually less harmful than alcohol, and they're questioning their beliefs about why it should be illegal," he said. "I think there are a lot of younger people, who, like with marriage equality, are simply growing up with a different mindset with this type of social issue.But I also think there a lot of people in their 40s and 50s who have come to recognize that what they've been told about marijuana their whole lives simply isn't true."
But they don't really talk specifics here on why this was such a big push for any other reason than to start up the conversation on the East Coast. That's because that is all this measure is: a conversation piece to hopefully get momentum towards a presidential election year.
Police say they'll continue to enforce state law even if the bill passes, which was the same thing that happened when Tvert helped pass similar marijuana initiatives in Denver years ago. If that's the case, then all of this truly is symbolic. But if that symbolism translates to a greater acceptance of cannabis on the East Coast and eventual legalization in Maine, is it worth it?