South Portland narrowly approves marijuana legalization

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Voters legalized marijuana on Election Day, joining Portland as the second city in the state to do so.

The citizen-initiated referendum passed 6,326 to 5,755. The ordinance will make it legal for citizens 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana for recreational use.

“We’re glad that the residents of South Portland have chosen fact over fear,” David Boyer, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said Tuesday night.

The ordinance does not propose any form of taxation, the establishment of dispensaries, or any stipulations regarding the buying or selling of the substance.

In addition, the ordinance will not change state or federal laws that prohibit the sale or possession of pot, meaning that action taken against users will be at the discretion of local police.

Boyer said he hopes the South Portland Police Department will respect the will of the voters.

“We shouldn’t have to wait for the federal government to change a bad law,” Boyer said.

During an Oct. 23 forum, Police Chief Edward Googins said his officers will continue to follow state law. He said that, although officers seldom charge individuals solely for possession, marijuana and other drugs are almost always involved when there is larger crime committed.

If a person is arrested for a separate issue and they are in possession of marijuana, the chief said, officers will react accordingly.

“If he (Googins) does not support it, he’s thumbing his nose at voters,” Boyer said, adding that those same voters pay Googins’ salary.

Googins, who was not immediately available Tuesday night, has been an outspoken opponent of legalization, as have some members of the City Council and School Board.

City councilors unanimously passed a non-binding resolution opposing legalization in early June, and also expressed disapproval at a press conference. Their main concerns were the effect legalization could have on children, and that legalizing the drug would add little benefit to the community. Last month, the Board of Education voted 4-3 to oppose the initiative. 

At the recent forum, Googins said that adding a third drug to the legal mix will not do society any good, and that he’s seen too much suffering and violence from drug addiction to support the initiative. Marijuana leads to other drugs and is almost always present during larger scale crimes, the chief said. He said that events following legalization in Colorado have been “alarming” and indicative that South Portland should not follow suit.

Boyer said that the approximately 4 percent margin Tuesday was a little closer than he would have liked but that, ultimately, the MPP’s message that marijuana is safer than alcohol clinched the vote. 

That’s been the message since proponents for legalization submitted a petition of over 1,500 signatures to the city in July. At the recent forum, Boyer stressed this idea, saying that it’s illogical to punish adults for utilizing a safer alternative to both alcohol and tobacco.

Legalization will actually decrease violent crime and access to children, Boyer said. He added that if marijuana is taxed and sold like alcohol, the need for drug dealers will be eliminated.  With the lack of dealers, implementation of dispensary carding and advertising oversight, Boyer said, there would be no one to offer children the real gateway drugs.

The question was also on the ballot in Lewiston, where it was defeated 7,366 to 6,044. Regardless, Boyer said that the MPP plans to pursue statewide legalization in 2016.

Lily O’Gara can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow her on Twitter: @lilyog28.

Sidebar Elements

Supporters of the Marijuana Policy Project and the legalization of pot celebrate their South Portland victory on Nov. 4 at Thatcher’s Restaurant on Foden Road in South Portland.