MAINE: Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said people celebrating the city’s groundbreaking marijuana legalization effort presented no trouble for his officers. But he said police will continue to issue citations for possession of the drug under state law when necessary.
“We didn’t have any problems at all,” Sauschuck told the Bangor Daily News on Wednesday morning.
The chief reiterated comments he made before the passage of the referendum, which legalizes possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana in Portland. Recreational use of the drug remains illegal under federal and state laws, which Sauschuck said “pre-empt local ordinances.”
But he said police in Maine’s largest city did not consider small-scale marijuana possession a high priority even before Tuesday night’s election. The ordinance takes effect in 30 days.
“This doesn’t change anything for us in terms of enforcement,” he said. “But the actual statistics show this is a low priority for us.”
Maine Attorney General Janet Mills on Wednesday reinforced Sauschuck’s position that state law takes precedence over a local ordinance in determining enforcement strategy.
“While the people of Portland are free to express their views on marijuana or other topics of social importance, the marijuana ordinance of course does not override state or federal laws regulating the use, possession, furnishing and sale of marijuana,” Mills said in an email to the Bangor Daily News. “In this regard, we view the referendum as somewhat advisory in nature.”
Possession of less than 2.5 ounces of marijuana is not a criminal offense in Maine, but rather a civil offense, effectively meaning that instead of any jail time, those convicted face court dates and fines.
Sauschuck said his department responds to 85,000 calls for service per year, and handed out 68 civil summonses for marijuana charges between June 2011 and June 2012. The following 12-month period, from June 2012 to June 2013, Portland police issued just 54 such citations.