STATE HOUSE NEWS

House votes against fully legalizing pot

Posted June 14, 2011, at 2:31 p.m.
Last modified June 15, 2011, at 9:35 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — House lawmakers voted Tuesday to reject a bill that would have moved Maine a step closer to legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

As originally introduced, LD 1453 would have legalized the possession and cultivation of marijuana for personal use and would have affixed a 7 percent tax on sale of the drug.

The bill failed to win the endorsement of a legislative committee and on Tuesday House members followed suit by voting 107-39 to kill the bill after moderate debate.

“I don’t believe the time has come yet for this,” said Rep. Michael Celli, R-Brewer. “We have to let the federal government make the first move.”

Supporters of the measure noted, however, that the bill had been changed in committee to propose that voters decide through a statewide referendum whether to legalize marijuana. And even if Maine voters agreed to legalize pot, the change would not take effect until the federal government removed marijuana from its list of scheduled drugs.

Rep. Diane Russell, a Portland Democrat who sponsored the bill, said Maine spent an estimated $26 million on investigations, arrests, prosecutions and incarcerations related to possession of marijuana in 2009. Russell also disputed statements that marijuana is a “gateway drug” that can lead users to abuse more serious drugs.

“It is time to stop turning law-abiding people into criminals,” Russell said.

Legalizing marijuana would reduce the prevalence of gangs and organized crime in Maine while generating an estimated $8.5 million in new tax revenue, she said.

Rep. Aaron Libby, R-Waterboro, had more libertarian reasons for supporting the measure, suggesting the federal government is trampling on states’ rights and the constitution.

“We should follow the constitution and stop trying to police moralities,” Libby said.

Rep. Gary Plummer, R-Windham, said he may live to see pot legalized.

“I do, however, believe this bill proposes a situation whose time has not come,” Plummer said.

The bill now heads to the Senate, where it likely faces a similar fate.

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