December 5, 2013

Warnings issued regarding Portland marijuana ordinance

A panel will discuss the interface of the ordinance with state and federal laws on Thursday night at City Hall.

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Portland’s new ordinance declaring marijuana possession by adults to be legal within city limits takes effect on Friday, and city officials are trying to prevent the type of celebration that took place on election night.

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The new ordinance allows adults to possess marijuana in Portland city limits, but prohibits people from using it in public.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

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Belly dancer Whitley “Nabintu” Marshall dances as proponents of Portland’s Yes on One celebrate at Brian Boru in Portland on Nov. 5. Police, city officials and proponents of legalization want to clarify the ordinance.

John Patriquin/2013 Press Herald file

Several proponents celebrated the lopsided passage of the ordinance by smoking a foot-long joint outside a downtown bar.

“We certainly hope people respect the ordinance,” said City Councilor David Marshall, a member of the Portland Green Independent Committee, which spearheaded the legalization effort. “The ordinance clearly says you can’t do it in public.”

At 6:30 p.m. on Thursday evening, the Portland Greens will hold an informal panel discussion in the State of Maine room at City Hall to clear the air about what the ordinance says and how it interacts with state and federal laws, which prohibit possession of marijuana for recreational purposes.

Invited panelists include Marshall, Mayor Michael Brennan, City Manager Mark Rees, the American Civil Liberties Union and attorney Murrough O’Brien, according to a press release.

The public is invited to ask questions about how the ordinance will be enacted.

On Nov. 5, 67 percent of Portland voters supported legalizing possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana for adults age 21 and older. The ordinance allows adults to possess marijuana in public, but prohibits people from using it in public. It is still illegal under city ordinance to buy or sell marijuana and landlords can still prohibit smoking marijuana in their apartments.

Marijuana is illegal under federal law. Medicinal marijuana is allowed under state law and Maine is one of 16 states that have decriminalized possession of certain amounts of marijuana. That means someone caught possessing less than 2.5 ounces is subject to a civil summons and fine, unless it is packaged for sale or being furnished, in which case it becomes a criminal offense.

Police Chief Michael Sauschuck has said police will continue enforcing the state law, since it supersedes local ordinances.

The marijuana cases represent a small fraction of the more than 85,000 calls for service a year to the Portland Police Department.

From July 2012 to July 2013, police issued 54 summonses for marijuana possession. During the previous year, 68 summonses were issued.

Since July, 20 marijuana-related citations have been issued. Nearly half – four citations for marijuana possession and four for possession of paraphernalia – have been issued since the ordinance was passed in November.

Marshall said he’d like to see the department follow the example being set in Jackson, Mich., which also legalized marijuana in November. There, law enforcement officials have said they will respect the ordinance and not punish people for possessing marijuana on private property.

Marshall said police should only enforce state law when someone is not in compliance with the city ordinance.

“We still think there is a middle ground to make sure the state law is upheld while respecting the ordinance,” he said.

Marshall described the election night celebration as “unfortunate” and noted it was quickly ended by the campaign and staff at Brian Boru, where the election party was held.

City Manager Mark Rees was not available Wednesday to talk about the city’s enforcement plan.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

rbillings@pressherald.com

Twitter: @randybillings

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