Portland Voters Approve Marijuana Legalization

Portland became the first city on the East Coast to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, on Tuesday.

Portland voters approved a citizens referendum that legalized the recreational use of marijuana in city limits by a vote of 9,921 to 4,823, according to unofficial results released by the city clerk Tuesday night.

“Most Portlanders, like most Americans, are fed up with our nation’s failed marijuana prohibition laws,” said David Boyer, the Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, in a statement.  “We applaud Portland voters for adopting a smarter marijuana policy, and we look forward to working with city officials to ensure it is implemented.” The ordinance will allow adults, who are at least 21 years old, to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and requisite paraphernalia for recreational use.  While people can use marijuana on their personal property, the language bars them from using it on any public infrastructure, including sidewalks, parks and roadways; but landlords and building owners can opt to bar smoking on their property.

The ordinance will be enacted 30 days after the election results are certified by the city clerk, according to the city code, and cannot be repealed for five years unless it’s done by citizen petition.

The Citizens for a Safer Portland Coalition, which was comprised of the Portland Green Independent Committee, the Marijuana Policy Project and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, led the legalization effort and gained the support of the Libertarian Party of Maine, the Marijuana Caregivers of Maine and a group of local legislators.  “This sends a clear message that Mainers are ready to have a conversation about a statewide tax and regulation structure,” said Diane Russell, D-Portland, who championed legalization legislation on the state level that ultimately went down to defeat.

“A lot of volunteers spent a lot of time to get this on the ballot,” she added.  “This is what happens when grassroots people get together and change the world they live in,” Russell said.

A Gallup poll released last month showed that 58 percent of Americans support marijuana legalization with 39 percent opposed, according to the survey results, and a similar poll done in 2012 showed 48 percent supported legalization with 50 percent opposed.

Question One faced scant opposition, though one resident purchased signs that advocated for citizens to reject the legalization effort, and 21 Reasons, a nonprofit, voiced displeasure with a series of ads placed on buses and bus stops and claimed they promoted drug use, especially by young people.

Russell said she will continue pursuing legislation for a statewide regulatory framework, noting a “real mandate for change” based on Tuesday’s vote.

“It’s going to take a Legislative Council vote to do it,” she said, referring to the legislative body that sets priorities for the session in Augusta.

The Portland citizens initiative, which launched in March, came on the heels of Russell’s bill in the Maine Legislature that aimed to create a taxation and regulatory structure around the legalization of marijuana.  Russell’s bill would have left it up to Maine voters to make the final decision on marijuana legalization through a state-wide referendum.

The bill lacked the support of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.  “Now that marijuana is legal for adults in Maine’s largest city, there is an even greater need for comprehensive reform at the state level,” Boyer said.  “By regulating marijuana like alcohol, we could take sales out of the hands of drug cartels in the underground market and put them behind the counters of licensed, tax-paying businesses.  It’s time to move beyond prohibition and adopt a more sensible approach.”

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