The night before Maine will vote on a ballot question to legalize recreational marijuana, the Portland City Council declined to vote on a six-month moratorium on selling the drug.
Introduced mere hours before the council meeting, the emergency measure would have enacted a six-month ban on retail marijuana shops and social clubs in Portland. But it would likely take more than a year for retailers to legally begin selling pot anyway, according to the timeline laid out in the referendum.
A vote to waive the first reading of the proposed regulation and let the council immediately vote on it was defeated six to three, with Councilors Nick Mavodones, Belinda Ray and Ed Suslovic voting in favor. The ordinance will come up for a vote at the next council meeting.
The proposed ordinance was introduced by Ray and Suslovic, who is running for re-election. It was requested by Portland’s lawyer to limit liability.
If Maine legalizes marijuana on Tuesday, the moratorium would prevent someone from applying at City Hall to sell the drug before Portland had set up any licensing or regulatory framework, according to the city’s lead lawyer, Danielle West-Chuhta. Question 1 would require a license through the state to sell pot, but without the temporary ban, an early applicant might be able to claim exemption to city regulation passed later, West-Chuhta warned the council.
But most councilors were not persuaded that this danger was great enough to risk confusing voters or giving the appearance that Portland was weighing in on Question 1.
“I don’t think there is a permit to engage in the type of activity now … and there won’t be a permit available tomorrow,” said Jill Duson, explaining her opposition.
Several other Portlanders denounced the measures’ 11th-hour introduction and suggested that it was politically motivated.
“It seems to be more about politics than policy,” said David Boyer, spokesman for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.
The recreational use of marijuana has been legal under Portland ordinance since 2013. But city police have continued to enforce state laws, which only allow medicinal use.
The law proposed by Question 1 gives municipalities wide purview to regulate the sale of recreational pot. Other Maine communities have approved six-month moratorium. Brewer, Gray, Westbrook, Bangor and New Gloucester have already instituted six-month moratoriums and other municipalities are considering such a measure.