Portland, Maine may become the first city to defy both state and national marijuana laws. Following a vote by City Council on Monday, July 15, voters residing within city limits will have the opportunity to decide whether to remove all penalties for possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana for adults 21 and older.
Portland’s City Council voted 5-1 to send the citizen-initiated marijuana legalization ordinance to voters on a November ballot, rather than immediately adopting it. The ordinance received twice as many signatures as was required.
About a dozen speakers delivered presentations during the hearing and a pre-hearing press conference, including Portland City Councilor Dave Marshall, the Marijuana Policy Project’s Maine political director David Boyer, Maine NAACP Executive Committee member Regina Phillips, and Bob Talbot of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.
Phillips highlighted the racial disparities in the enforcement of marijuana laws. She cited recent FBI statistics showing that blacks in Maine are more than twice as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite similar use rates. “It has begun to feel like locking up young black men has become a national pastime,” she said.
Boyer and City Councilor Marshall emphasized the ineffectiveness of prohibition, the extreme financial costs of enforcement, and the fact that marijuana is objectively safer than alcohol.
“No one’s ever died from a lethal amount of pot,” Marshall told council members at the pre-hearing press conference. “Factually, [marijuana] is safer than alcohol. It doesn’t make logical sense for it to be illegal.”
Currently, Maine is one of 18 states to permit medical marijuana. Recent efforts to legalize marijuana statewide have been accelerating: LD 1229, a bill to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol, was only narrowly defeated in the Maine legislature.