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Portland police won’t honor marijuana referendum

December 6, 2013

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A new law legalizing marijuana for recreational use went into effect Friday in Maine’s largest city, providing a symbolic victory that marijuana advocates intend to use as a springboard to a statewide law.

The city ordinance makes it legal for adults to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana, but police officers will continue to enforce state law that makes possession of up to 2.5 ounces a civil violation.

Mayor Michael Brennan said there were only 54 marijuana citations in the past year, reflecting the low priority that police officers place on the offenses. He expects the numbers will drop further.

“The officers are going to continue to use their discretion,” said Police Chief Michael Sauschuck, who pointed out that there were 119 marijuana citations over the past two years out of 168,777 calls.

Marijuana advocates want the police department to follow the lead of Jackson, Mich., where they say police are taking a hands-off approach following passage of a similar ordinance.

“We hope that city officials respect the will of the voters. If not, we’ll try to make sure they do,” said David Boyer, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project.

City voters passed the referendum 67-33 percent, making Portland the first East Coast city to legalize marijuana for recreational use. The city ordinance makes it legal for people 21 and older to possess marijuana, but not to purchase or to sell it. It remains illegal to use pot in public.

State Rep. Diane Russell, a supporter of legalizing marijuana, said she’s disappointed that the Maine Legislature won’t be considering a similar statewide proposal in January.

But she said it’s inevitable that others will follow Portland’s lead. Already, possession of marijuana is legal in Colorado and Washington state.

“It sends a message to people across the country that Maine is going to be leading the way developing a more rational policy than prohibition,” she said.

Marijuana advocates have pledged to collect signatures to put the proposal to a statewide if Maine lawmakers won’t address the matter.

Boyer, for his part, said marijuana advocates will continue a dialogue with the chief.

“Yes they can enforce state law. But there’s no requirement that they do so, just like they don’t pull over everyone who goes 5 miles per hour over the speed limit,” Boyer said. “It’s not worth their time.”

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