PORTLAND, Maine — Mainers would be allowed to legally possess and grow marijuana under a bill proposed in the Legislature, but opponents say it’s a bad idea.
A bill unveiled Wednesday would legalize the personal use and private and commercial cultivation of marijuana and tax consumer purchases at 7 percent. Democratic Rep. Diane Russell of Portland, who is sponsoring the bill, said it’s time to stop turning otherwise law-abiding citizens who use marijuana into criminals.
Legalizing pot would generate taxes, create jobs and free up legal and public safety resources to focus on more pressing issues, Russell said. She maintained her bill also would restrict access to minors by regulating marijuana sales and taking it out of the hands of drug dealers.
“It is absolutely irresponsible for society to continue burying our heads in the sand and pretending our current policy works,” Russell said at a press conference to unveil her bill. “Too much is at stake to continue pretending this is just a joke from the latest reefer madness movie.”
Opponents say increasing access to drugs is bad policy.
Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, said marijuana use leads to other drugs and creates public safety problems with people driving under the influence. He disagreed with Russell’s contention that legalizing pot would make it harder for young people to get their hands on it.
Additionally, the law would conflict with federal law, resulting in confusing and contradictory sets of rules, he said.
“We have a lot of problems with legalizing marijuana,” Schwartz said.
“There’re all kinds of ramifications.”
Maine voters in 2009 approved a statewide referendum that changed Maine’s decade-old medical marijuana law by expanding the conditions under which people could be prescribed the drug to ease pain, while allowing retail dispensaries where patients could legally buy pot with a doctor’s prescription.
Russell’s bill would allow Mainers 21 and older to possess up to 1 pound of marijuana and legally smoke or ingest it in nonpublic places, including private residences. People could grow pot within 75 square feet of space for personal consumption and within 2,000 square feet of space for commercial cultivation.
She estimated that marijuana sales would generate $8.5 million in sales taxes each year, and an undetermined amount of income taxes for people who make money off it.
She envisions small-scale growers across Maine cultivating the plants and selling the finished product to consumers.
Her bill is co-sponsored by both Republicans and Democrats, and representatives from the Maine Civil Liberties Union and the Maine Marijuana Policy Initiative spoke in favor of the bill at Wednesday’s press conference. Still, she knows there will be opposition from other legislators.
A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office said Wednesday that Attorney General William Schneider opposes the bill and does not favor legalizing marijuana.