With the vote this past Tuesday, the question arises are we starting down a journey to legalized Marijuana in Maine? As with all journeys, there are bumps in the roads and surprises around the bend. Let’s take an in depth look at how Marijuana in Portland Maine is still not entirely legal. why this is the case, and speculate on some next steps.
Portland, Maine Marijuana Ballot Initiative Passes Decisively
This past Tuesday Portland, Maine voters had their say on a referendum to make possession of less than 2.5 ounces of marijuana by adults over 21 legal in the city. The vote in favor won by a decisive margin at sixty seven percent (67%). In response, many celebrated this as a victory supporting marijuana legalization. However, the effect of the ordinance is not a citywide legalization of marijuana in Portland Maine, and implementation of the new ordinance does not take effect immediately.
New City Law Creates Conflict with Maine State Law
Because the Marijuana in Portland Maine ordinance only applies within the city limits, the ordinance does not affect or change Maine State law. Under Maine State laws, marijuana is still an illegal drug. Under Maine Statute, marijuana is considered a Schedule Z illegal drug, and possession more than 2.5 ounces, furnishing marijuana, cultivating marijuana plants, and trafficking in marijuana are all criminal activities. As criminal charges, the possible consequences from the State can include fines, jail time, and possible probation, among other conditions.
Under Maine State law, possession of marijuana in amounts less than 2.5 ounces is considered a civil violation, for which the penalty is a fine. In this way, the change mostly supports the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, as opposed to legalization. However, in Portland you can still be issued a civil violation in connection with marijuana.
State Marijuana Law Preempts City Marijuana Law
Even though Portland has legalized possession by adults of small amounts of marijuana, the State of Maine has not made this change. This difference creates a conflict between the two sets of laws. When there is a conflict in laws, the law from the more powerful entity usually prevails. Here, the Maine State law would be considered to carry a greater punch than the City law. This is called preemption.
Because the Maine State law still considers marijuana to be illegal, recreational marijuana users in Portland could potentially run into problems with the police. People can still be charged with a civil violation or a crime, depending on the amount of marijuana in possession. This would be despite the fact that according to City ordinance, the marijuana possession was legal and the accused were not breaking the law.
While Possession of Marijuana in Portland Maine is Legal, purchasing it is a crime.
This is perhaps the most perplexing part of the new law, because if possession is legal, then should not obtaining it be legal too? What would happen if city law enforcement witnessed a sale of a legal amount of marijuana between an illegal drug trafficker and a law-abiding recreational marijuana user? Under State law, both would be arrested, and then if the amount of marijuana possessed is confirmed as less than 2.5 ounces, then law enforcement can tag the purchaser with a civil violation for possession of a usable amount of marijuana. The spirit of the new ordinance suggests that now the law enforcement officer might arrest the trafficker but let the purchaser go.
Technically however, even if possession of small recreational amount of marijuana is now legal in Portland, the Police would still enforce laws pertaining to larger amounts of marijuana. Overall, I believe that the biggest change this law makes is shifting the priorities of law enforcement. If small amounts are legal, then it is not worth the police officer’s time to go after recreational marijuana users. Instead, city law enforcement might allocate its time towards more serious marijuana-related crimes, such as illegal trafficking or large illegal cultivation operations.
Legal Possession Citywide Could Lead to Statewide Legalization
While this new change in the City of Portland, Maine did not by itself legalize marijuana throughout the State, it is possible that this small change could lead to bigger changes in favor of marijuana legalization in the future. Here is a scenario from a State that legalized Marijuana that could be predictive to what Maine could expect to experience.
In Colorado, their path to legalization began with a similar citywide legalization effort in the city of Denver, CO. Two years after marijuana was made legal citywide in Denver, the rest of the State of Colorado followed suit and legalized marijuana statewide. Most recently, Colorado voters approved a measure that would place a hefty State tax on legal marijuana.
Will we see if this scenario turns out to be true in Maine, that in the next 2 years can we expect to see legalization of marijuana statewide in Maine? Subsequent efforts from issue activists and future voters will tell.