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Marijuana "Lowest Priority" Initiative Advances in Maine City

A municipal initiative that would make adult marijuana possession the lowest law enforcement priority in Portland, Maine, has handed in enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot, organizers said at a press conference Tuesday. Sensible Portland, the group pushing the measure, said it had turned in 2,100 voter signatures, well above the 1,500 needed for it to qualify.

City Hall in Portland. The city council can approve the initiative or let the voters decide. (image via wikimedia.org)
The measure would amend city statutes to codify that marijuana possession offenses committed by nonviolent adults 21 or older would be the lowest law enforcement priority for city police. The proposed ordinance is aimed at stopping police from fining or arresting people for pot or pot paraphernalia possession.

The possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana is already decriminalized under state law, with a fine of up to $1,000. Pot paraphernalia possession is also decriminalized, with a maximum fine of $300. Possession of more than 2.5 ounces is considered possession with intent to distribute and is punishable by jail or prison time.

Sensible Portland leaders said they hoped the measure would spur "an adult conversation" about marijuana across the state and that the ultimate goal was marijuana legalization.

"To be clear, we hope that this measure is a step toward the eventual end of prohibition of marijuana in this country," said John Eder, a spokesman for Sensible Portland and a former Green Party state representative. "This local ordinance isn't a small thing," he added in remarks reported by the Portland Daily Sun.

"Most movements start locally, and this movement will have its effect on the state, and it will have its effect nationally, as Maine joins the chorus of states and cities that are going on record saying they want to end the prohibition of marijuana for persons over the age of 21," Eder continued.

The city clerk now has two weeks to verify that the 2,100 signatures turned in contain the 1,500 valid signatures needed to qualify. If that happens, the measure first goes to the city council, which can either vote to approve it or place it on the November 8 ballot.

Sensible Portland saw broad support for the measure during the signature-gathering campaign, said Anna Trevorrow, a former state Green Party chair. "We met with great response from Portland voters who were signing eagerly, who were not sure why marijuana was not already legal," she said, adding, "We feel that this goes beyond decriminalization."

Portland, ME
United States
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Decriminalisation

"possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana is already decriminalized under state law, with a fine of up to $1,000"

Can I be a terrible pedant, and point out that to 'decriminalise'  means to make something not-a-crime. If the state can punish you for it, say, by fining you $1,000, it's still a crime, albeit a minor one compared to one you can go to jail for. I presume you mean that 'the penalties have been lowered' to a $1000 fine from whatever it was before, but we would be better to keep the word 'decriminalise' to mean 'remove (rather than merely lessen) criminal penalties', since that is surely what we want in the interim before we achieve full legalisation and regulation. I recommend, as I often do, Douglas Husak's <i>LegalizeThis<i/> for a defence of the ethical case for decriminalisation.

Decriminalisation

The term "decriminalize", as used by the drug policy reform community, means that the penalty has been reduced to a civil infraction, as opposed to a misdemeanor. Therefore, it's technically no longer a crime. It's more like a parking ticket. It's just sematics, I guess. Full legalization would be preferable.

It's hardly semantics.

It's hardly semantics. Remember when you filled out that job application and it asked if you had ever been convicted of a crime? Under Maine law you get to truthfully answer no. Here's another example. In Virginia your first arrest for cannabis possession under 1/2 an ounce is basically a non-event. They send you to jail if it's your second offense. Someone tagged with a civil offense in another State would get first time offender treatment.

There are substantial differences between civil offenses and criminal violations. Perhaps one of the best examples was California finally decriminalizing petty possession on 1/1/2011. The $100 fine used to be accompanied by a misdemeanor criminal record and ~$300 in court costs, and required an appearance in court to dispose of the case. Since January 1 a check for $100 mailed in or a credit card payment on line for $100 makes it go away, no court costs.

One drawback for we cannabinoidians is that there are a lot of cops that don't object to a civil fine, who do object to enforcing it as a crime. So you're more likely to get written up for the civil offense. But that's blind luck, and many times happenstance. Every year on COPS we'll see several instances of people being arrested/cited for petty possession and you can rest assured that a substantial percentage would have had their pot stolen and received a a stiff browbeating, then sent on their way, but with the TV cameras rolling the cop doesn't have the option of doing that.

What I don't get is the part that says more than 2.5 ounces is possession with intent, but on NORML's Maine penalty page it says up to 99 plants is a misdemeanor. NORML also says that the "intent to distribute" is rebuttable which is a good thing. Some people just don't like interacting with drug dealers and prefer to stock up. It's usually less expensive too.

Quite frankly I may be moving to Maine very soon. For all the press that the three west coast States get about being 'easy' on cannabis offenses Maine law sure looks like it kicks the laws of California, Oregon and Washington to the curb. Cultivation of any amount in California without CUA protection is a felony. You can take my word for it that a felony conviction sucks balls, regardless of whether there's a prison term attached or not.

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