Maine Law Enforcement Against Lowering Marijuana Penalties


Graphic: Reality Catcher

‚ÄčTwo bills to broaden the decriminalization of marijuana in Maine got bipartisan support from lawmakers at public hearings Thursday, but were — surprise, surprise! — opposed by law enforcement officials.

One measure, L.D. 754, would double the amount of usable marijuana that individuals could possess and still have it treated as a civil, rather than a criminal, offense, reports Rebekah Metzler at Maine Today. The other, L.D. 750, would decriminalize possession of up to six cannabis plants.
“It is my fundamental belief that people who use marijuana for personal use on a recreational basis are not criminals,” said state Rep. Ben Chipman, an independent from Portland, when he spoke to lawmakers on the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.
“I just do not think that it’s reasonable to allow 2.5 ounces to be a civil infraction but having zero tolerance for plants and forcing consumers to the black market,” Chipman said.
Medical marijuana has been legal in Maine since 1999, and voters legalized dispensaries in 2009. The Maine Legislature in spring 2009 doubled the amount of marijuana a person could possess without facing criminal charges from 1.25 ounces to 2.5 ounces. Chipman’s proposal would double that amount again, to five ounces.

Photo: The Portland Press Herald
The seriously cool Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) is co-sponsor of both decrim bills. But wait, she rocks even harder than that. She is also the lead sponsor of a yet-to-be-finalized bill that would completely legalize marijuana in Maine. Let’s hear it for real leadership!

‚ÄčRepublican state Reps. Rich Cebra of Naples and Lance Harvell of Farmington, along with my personal favorite Maine legislator, state Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland), are co-sponsors of both proposals.
Russell is also the lead sponsor of a yet-to-be finalized bill that would completely legalize marijuana.
“I think the idea is to make less people criminals,” Cebra said. “I believe in individual freedom and rights. A government that leaves people alone is a better government.”
Most people have used marijuana at some point in their lives, and laws making it illegal are ridiculous, said Jonathan Leavitt, director of the Maine Marijuana Policy Initiative.
“Already to most people in this state the idea that an adult smoking a bowl or two after a long day of work somehow threatens public safety is as foolish as the idea that there’s something wrong with an Irishman enjoying a pint or six of Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day,” Leavitt said.
But lobbyists and politicians weren’t the only ones speaking out for the decrim measures. Many members of the public also testified in favor of the measures, as did the Maine Civil Liberties Union.
But Evert Fowle, district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties and president of the Maine Prosecutors Association, said Maine’s current marijuana law has already gone far enough, and is far more progressive and less punitive than those in most other states.
“I am not aware of any state, with the possible exception of Alaska, that has gone further than we have in decriminalizing marijuana,” said Fowle, who worked with legislators in 2009 to broaden decrim limits. “Ultimately, our current law was a big step forward for all of us and we have a very moderate and reasonable law on the books,” he said.
Unsurprisingly, Roy McKinney, director of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, also spoke against both proposals.
“There are real health, social and economic consequences to the use of marijuana,” McKinney claimed. “Maine has approached the issue of possession of a small amount in a thoughtful manner that balances the interests of society, the individual and the message that we send to our youth.”