Advocates backing an initiative to legalize marijuana in Portland say that the city is poised to join a national movement to call for the reform of broken drug policies.
A coalition of supporters — which included the Portland Green Independent Committee, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, the Marijuana Policy Project and Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine — rolled out the “Yes On 1” campaign to help educate Portland voters on the proposed ordinance that would legalize marijuana in Portland. Supporters of the initiative say that Portland is poised to join the efforts across the country to enact common sense marijuana policy.
“Our situation right now is very opportune,” said City Councilor David Marshall.
The ordinance would decriminalize the use and possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and accessory paraphernalia for adults who are 21 years or older but prohibit its use in public spaces, school grounds or transportation infrastructure.
Recently, the federal government has decided to allow Colorado and Washington to enact marijuana legalization laws without retribution, Marshall said, and outlined new priorities for handling marijuana cases.
Marshall said the Department of Justice’s desire is to prevent the diversion of marijuana to minors, ensure that it’s not impacting impaired driving or public health incidents and to ensure it’s not used on federal property. The ordinance for voters to consider prohibits anyone under the age of 21 from possessing or using marijuana, does not allow for the use on any transportation infrastructure and and blocks it from being used on any public grounds.
Asher Platts, chairman of the Maine Green Independent Party and the outreach director of the “Yes On 1” campaign, said the Green Party’s goal is to raise $4,500 to support outreach and educational efforts before the election. He said mailers and information cards are ready to be distributed and volunteers will be out speaking with city residents about the issue.
Aside from the efforts of the Green Party, the other organizations involved in the coalition will offer support and resources to move the campaign forward.
“The movement to end marijuana prohibition is gaining momentum every day,” said David Boyer, the Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Marijuana policy reform has gone from a third rail topic to a mainstream one.”
Boyer said marijuana is safer, less toxic and less addictive than alcohol, and is not a major contributor to aggressive behavior or violent crime. He said both marijuana and alcohol can be used responsibly.
“Adults should be able to purchase marijuana in the same manner as they purchase alcohol and this campaign is the first step to allow Maine adults to do so,” he said.
Grainne Dunne, a justice organizer with the ACLU of Maine, said passing the ordinance would show Portland’s support for the increasing demand to reform the country’s marijuana laws.
“This is an opportunity to realign our criminal justice priorities with our values,” she said.
Dunne said “stop and frisk” policies have been found unconstitutional, mandatory minimum sentences for low level drug offenses are not a priority and the Department of Justice not interfering with the Colorado and Washington legalization laws all represent steps in the right direction.
The country’s failed drug policies have maxed out the prison system and consumed many financial resources, Dunne said, and nearly half of the state’s drug arrests are for marijuana, and every four out of five are for minor possession.
“Now, it is time to take this next step forward in Maine,” Dunne said.. “… Now is the time for sensible marijuana policy.”