|Graphic: Sensible Portland|
Could Portland become Potland? Enforcement of marijuana laws will become the lowest priority for police in Portland, Maine, if supporters of a petition drive are successful.
Under the proposal being circulated by Sensible Portland, police would refrain from arresting or even fining anyone 21 or older for possession of marijuana or paraphernalia, reports Ann S. Kim at the The Portland Press Herald. Police would also be directed to refrain from trying to even find out whether someone has cannabis or paraphernalia.
The proposed ordinance is in line with the values of a community that has supported Maine’s medical marijuana laws, according to John Eder, spokesman and organizer for Sensible Portland.
The eagerness of those who sign the petition and other anecdotal evidence indicate that Portland residents don’t want police wasting resources pursuing people with small amounts of pot, Eder said.
“We want law enforcement in Portland to be working with the same level of values as the people in Portland,” said Eder, a former state legislator from the Green Independent Party.
Sensible Portland has until August 15 to get the 1,500 signatures needed to get the measure on the November ballot in the city. The group said it already has 1,000 signatures.
The voters of Seattle, Denver, Missoula, Mont., and a number of California cities have already passed similar measures.
|Keith Stroup of NORML says ordinances are being adopted in urban areas that are more progressive than the rest of the state|
Ordinances are being adopted in urban areas that are more progressive than the rest of the state, according to Keith Stroup, legal counsel for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Local law enforcement and prosecutors may have discretion in what they decide to investigate and pursue, according to Stroup.
“It’s a way for them to say, ‘Well, I’m not saying we’re changing state law. I’m just saying we’re going to enforce our city ordinance rather than state law,’ ” Stroup said.
Possession of 1.25 ounces or less of marijuana is a civil offense in Maine, carrying a fine of $350 to $600. For amounts up to 2.5 ounces, fines range from $700 to $1,000.
Jail becomes a possible penalty for amounts greater than 2.5 ounces.
Portland Assistant Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said he wasn’t familiar with the petition drive, but that officers “have a lot of discretion” in how they do their jobs.
“I can tell you right now, we’re going to abide by state law and support our officers’ discretion,” he said, possibly forgetting it’s the voters who pay him through taxes.
The measure’s backers just want to codify the approach of Portland law enforcement to avoid confusion, according to Eder.
Students who are fined for even smaller levels of pot possession face problems, including losing educational opportunities due to ineligibility for Pell Grants for tuition, Eder said.
Portland City Attorney Gary Wood said he would not issue a legal opinion unless the measure passes at the polls in November.
The U.S. Attorney in Maine — the top federal prosecutor in the state — recently told state lawmakers that Maine’s medical marijuana law contradicts federal law and that the U.S. Department of Justice “reserves the right to prosecute.”