Portland Maine Marijuana Law Adds To Enforcement Haze

MAINE:  The city’s new law legalizing the use of small amounts of marijuana took effect Friday, Dec. 6, but no one seems quite sure what the impact of the ordinance will be.

Voters approved a citizens’ initiative on Nov. 5 allowing adults over age 21 to possess up to 2.5 ounces of the drug. The referendum passed with 67 percent of the 14,000 ballots cast, making Portland the first city on the East Coast to legalize pot.

But it remains illegal under federal law. And under state law, possessing small amounts of marijuana is still a civil infraction, meaning it’s illegal, but offenders pay a fine and don’t go to jail.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said at a public forum last week that his department will continue to enforce the federal and state laws, which are not pre-empted by the local one.

But police will use discretion in enforcing them, according to the chief.

That’s not good enough for David Boyer, state political director of the Marijuana Policy Project, which advocated for the ordinance.

“We hope officials will respect the will of the voters, and we haven’t heard a definitive answer,” he said at a Friday morning press conference on the steps of City Hall. “If not, I think we deserve an explanation.”

Boyer pointed out that other municipalities abide by similar ordinances in conflict with state and federal laws. For example, in the 33,000-person city of Jackson, Mich., police have pledged to follow a new law, also approved in November, that decriminalizes possession of up to 1 ounce of pot. That’s an arrestable offense under Michigan law.

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