PORTLAND — Several hundred people have signed a petition to legalize recreational use of marijuana for city residents over the age of 21, according to petition sponsors.
The Portland Chapter of the Maine Green Independent Committee began circulating the petition for a citizen's initiative last week; 1,500 signatures are required to put the question on the November ballot.
“We expect to turn in about 3,000 (signatures) and have already collected several hundred in just the first few days,” Tom MacMillan, chairman of the Portland Greens, said at a City Hall press conference March 21. “Thus far, Portland residents have excitedly rushed to sign petitions despite cold, snowy weather, and we think this is a sign of what is to come.”
MacMillan said the committee supports marijuana legalization for adults over the age of 21 because current policies have negative impacts on those who use marijuana and on city and state government.
“Our city and state are wasting money going after marijuana users while real problems are happening,” MacMillan said. “This policy will remove penalties for responsible adults because it has been proven again and again to be safer than alcohol.”
City Councilor David Marshall agreed, quoting President Jimmy Carter's statement that penalties for possession of a drug shouldn't be more damaging than the drug itself.
“Marijuana laws nationally have put people in positions where they are being called criminals,” Marshall said. “We feel that marijuana should be treated the same way as alcohol because marijuana is safer than alcohol. We should remove criminal penalties and stop criminalizing people for possessing a small amount of marijuana or paraphernalia or recreating in their own private spaces.”
Marshall said decriminalizing marijuana should reduce usage, as it has done in countries such as Denmark and states like California.
Zachary Heiden, legal director for the ACLU, said the organization's support for marijuana legalization is grounded in the concern over the “failed war on drugs.” He said the battle over drug use in the United States has lasted 42 years, spent trillions of taxpayer dollars and had little to no effect on the supply or demand for drugs.
“Jailing individuals who use marijuana recreationally makes no sense from a civil liberties perspective, from a civil rights perspective or from a fiscal perspective,” Heiden said.
Heiden also said that although marijuana use is still illegal at the state and federal level, enforcement of a new law in Portland could be left up to the Portland Police Department.
“For the most part, the federal government has allowed the states to explore different ways of enforcing drug enforcement and have not come in to clamp down on either medical marijuana or the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana for personal use," he said. "We hope that trend will continue (in Portland).”