A city ordinance in Portland, Maine went into effect last Friday, December 6th that will allow those individuals who are 21 and over to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana. The government passed the ordinance in November, while similar ordinances passed in three cities in Michigan. While residents are still subject to state and federal laws regarding marijuana possession, they sent local law enforcement a clear message about their priorities: voters in Portland do not want penalties associated with marijuana possession. Unfortunately, the Portland Police Department has not listened.
Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck
There were only 54 marijuana citations given out last year in Portland. While Mayor Brennan expects the number to decrease this year, Police Chief Michael Sauschuck wants his officers to continue to use their own discretion when deciding whether or not to issue marijuana citations pursuant to state laws, just as they have always done. Even though the police have handed out a modest number of citations in the past, their refusal to change their policies disregards the will of the voters. Furthermore, studies show that police officers arrest minorities at disproportionately high rates for marijuana possession, an inequality that citizens and legislators can combat by actually removing penalties associated with possession.
On Tuesday, the American Medical Associationannouncedthat while they still consider marijuana a dangerous drug and a public health concern, federal efforts to curb marijuana use are ineffective. The organization recommended continuing the criminalization of marijuana sales but suggested that marijuana use be treated with a public health approach rather than incarceration. The AMA also stated that they would be paying close attention to Colorado and Washington as they begin to implement regulated cultivation and retail marijuana sales.
“We are sorry to hear they wish to stay the course in enforcing this failed policy, but we are pleased to hear they are interested in reviewing the potential benefits of the laws passed in Colorado and Washington to regulate marijuana like alcohol,” said Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Any objective analysis of marijuana will confirm that it is far less harmful than alcohol. If the AMA is truly concerned about public health and safety, it should support a policy in which adults are able to make the safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol.”
Most Americans agree that marijuana is safer than alcohol and should be treated as such. The AMA is quite right that incarcerating marijuana users fails to curb use and creates more harm to the individual and society. Part of treating marijuana as a public health issue, however, is removing the marijuana market from criminal control by regulating retail sales for responsible adults.
Yesterday, Washington finalized the rules that will regulate the sale of recreational marijuana throughout the state. The Liquor Control Board outlined the regulations following a year of research, debate, and hearings. The result is a system very similar to Colorado’s. It requires seed to sale tracking, child resistant packaging, quality control testing done by a third party, and other safeguards. The regulations also require background checks for potential storeowners, a ban on out of state funding, and prohibit anyone from holding more than three store licenses. Beginning November 18, the Liquor Control Board will accept applications for the 334 licenses available throughout the state of Washington.
The pressure on the Liquor Control Board is high as many state legislatures view Washington and Colorado as tests for the possibility of a tax and regulate policy in their own states. Key players in finalizing the rules commented to USA Today:
“We feel very proud of what we’re doing,” said Sharon Foster, chairwoman of the Washington Liquor Control Board, as she and her two colleagues approved the rules. “We are making history.”
“What the Liquor Control Board has done is build a template for the responsible regulation of marijuana,” said Alison Holcomb, the Seattle lawyer who drafted Washington’s marijuana initiative. “This is a template that is going to be reviewed by other states, and already is being reviewed by other countries.”
Last week, MPP’s Mason Tvert spoke with Andrew Sullivan at The Dish about several aspects of marijuana policy and where it is headed. In this segment, he discusses where the federal government stands on the implementation of marijuana regulations in Colorado and Washington, and how they will deal with marijuana businesses:
The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing Tuesday regarding “Conflicts Between State and Federal Marijuana Laws.” The Justice Department announced on August 29 that it will not seek to stop Colorado and Washington from moving forward with implementation of voter-approved laws establishing state-regulated systems of marijuana cultivation and retail sales.
Sheriff John Urquhart
The truly amazing part was that the majority of those called to testify were in support of the DOJ policy. This included King County Sheriff John Urquhart of Washington and Jack Finlaw, chief legal counsel for Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. The only people who seemed to disagree with the DOJ not getting in the way of these states enacting the will of their voters were Sen. Chuck Grassley and Kevin Sabet, one of the founders of the disingenuous Project SAM.