SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — Voters in South Portland will get to decide the fate of a marijuana legalization ordinance there this November, supporters of the measure announced Monday night.
The Marijuana Policy Project and its backers are hoping to get similar legalization questions on the ballots in York and Lewiston, following up on the group’s success at the polls in Portland last fall.
In Maine’s largest city, two-thirds of those who voted approved an ordinance in November legalizing possession of 2.5 ounces of marijuana.
Supporters of legalization have said they plan to pursue a statewide referendum on the subject in 2016.
On Monday night, the South Portland City Council voted unanimously not to implement the proposed legalization ordinance outright, a procedural step that forwards the measure instead to a citywide vote, Portland television station WGME, CBS 13, reported.
The Marijuana Policy Project had gathered more than 1,500 signatures on petitions seeking the ordinance change, enough to either force its adoption by the council outright or place the item on the ballot. The council chose the latter option.
“Voters will have the chance to take a bite out of marijuana prohibition in South Portland this November,” said Marijuana Policy Project Maine political director David Boyer in a statement. “This is a great opportunity to have an open and honest public dialogue about this important issue. In particular, we hope to continue the conversation about the relative safety of marijuana compared to alcohol.
“Marijuana poses far less harm than alcohol to the consumer and to the community,” he continued. “It’s time to stop punishing adults for making the safer choice. Most people would agree there are more important things police and prosecutors could be doing with their time.”
Unlike in the Portland ordinance, however, the proposed rules in South Portland would legalize possession of only one ounce.
So far, South Portland officials have offered more vocal resistance to the prospect of marijuana legalization than Boyer and his supporters faced in neighboring Portland.
Last month, the South Portland City Council unanimously passed a nonbinding resolution opposing legalization. That action came on the heels of a news conference at which Mayor Jerry Jalbert, Police Chief Ed Googins, Superintendent Suzanne Godin and two city councilors — among others — proclaimed their opposition.
As is the case in Portland, the marijuana ordinances petitioners are proposing in the other three communities would apply to adults over the age of 21 and would maintain prohibitions on public use or display of the drug.
Portland police and state prosecutors have maintained that, despite the local ordinance legalizing pot in that city, they are still obligated to enforce state and federal laws outlawing the drug, leaving the referendum vote there largely as a ceremonial or advisory one.
Use of marijuana for medical purposes has been legal in Maine since 1999, with larger scale dispensaries of medical marijuana legal since 2009. The measure in Portland, as well as those proposed in the other three municipalities, would nominally legalize possession and use of the drug recreationally.
Paul McCarrier of the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine issued a statement on Tuesday expressing concerns about the Marijuana Policy Project’s efforts to legalize the drug for recreational uses here.
McCarrier pointed to a recent report out of Colorado, where pot use has been legalized statewide, showing tax revenues from marijuana sales falling short of estimates, followed by what he called efforts to move more medical marijuana patients into the taxable market to help make up the difference.
“In Colorado, MPP promised that a recreational program wouldn’t affect the medical program. Now we see that is not the case.” McCarrier said. ”Now government wants to herd medical marijuana patients into the recreational market. Its wrong to treat sick people as tax chattel.
“I support recreational marijuana, but the devil is in the details,” he continued. “We need a law by Mainers, for Mainers and keep the money here.”