Portland, Maine voters will decide this November whether or not to legalize up to 2.5 ounce of cannabis for adults 21 and older in the city prompted by a petition signed by more than 3,200 residents – more than double the 1,500 that were necessary.
Portland City Council last night voted 5 to 1 not to accept the measures, but to put the measure to voters. The majority of the voting members seemed against the plan. Council member John Coyne, told the Portland Press Herald that the move “lowers the bar for Portland” and invites the feds to choke-off federal funding and could potentially risk state funding as well.
Councilor David Marshall was the only council member to vote in favor of changing the law.
Current Maine law makes 2.5 ounces or less a civil violation with no jail time and up to $600 in fines.
Police say they are going to wait and see what happens. According to the Press Herald, there was a total of 53 civil charges marijuana possession charges in Portland last year, down about 15 from the year before.
Advocates say the bill would help end the racial disparity in marijuana arrests in Maine. The NAACP of Maine, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Marijuana Policy Project held a press conference Monday afternoon to express their support. They say that statewide police spend more than $9 million each year on enforcement – money that would be much better spent elsewhere.
Regina Phillips, executive board member for the NAACP of Maine, pointed to 2010 crime stats from the FBI that showed that blacks are arrested at twice the rate of their white counterparts for the same marijuana crimes in Maine.
The supporters argued that the move is needed, despite Maine’s decriminalization of up to 2.5 ounces already. They point out that even having a civil penalty charge of possessing marijuana on a person’s record could mean the loss of a job, housing, loans and schooling.
If passed, the measure would also legalize paraphernalia possession.