YORK, Maine - As of today, the town of York will put marijuana legalization on the ballot this November. The Marijuana Policy Project submitted more than 900 signatures to town officials this afternoon, more than enough needed to qualify for a citizen initiative. It's the third municipality in Maine to send the issue to voters, which is a growing concern for opponents.
It was just last year that Portland legalized recreational marijuana. David Boyer of the Marijuana Policy Project hopes Lewiston, South Portland, and York will follow suit this year. Boyer says the Marijuana Policy Project targeted York in particular because of what he describes as aggressive police enforcement of marijuana laws.
"The amount of summons that police here give, we were astonished that it was more than places like Portland and Lewiston, even South Portland," Boyer says.
If the ballot initiative passes, it will make it legal for adults 21 and older to possess and consume up to one ounce of marijuana in non-public settings. Boyer says marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, and adults shouldn't be punished for using it. Scott Gagnon of Smart Approaches to Marijuana - or SAM - agrees there are social justice issues associated with marijuana.
But "that's something that's not particular to marijuana," he says. "You look at alcohol arrests right now, there's higher arrest rates among minorities and vulnerable populations, so clearly legalization doesn't solve that issue."
Gagnon says York is already dealing with problems from the legalization of medical marijuana in the state. He says there have been complaints of a caregiver collective that is taking on more patients than allowed, causing traffic and noise problems.
"We do think the way the policy is set up, it doesn't allow for any meaningful remedies for situations like this," he says, "which is why we think adding recreational marijuana to the mix, it's just not a good time. We need to sort out the problems and the gaps in current marijuana policy before we entertain or look at any others."
What trumps the whole issue of legalizing marijuana, says Gagnon is that the petition itself is unlawful, because even if the initiative passes, it violates state and federal law. David Boyer of the Marijuana Policy Project says on the contrary, it would give police a choice.
"When they pull someone over, they use their discretion, whether or not to give them a ticket or a warning," he says. "They use their discretion every day."
"This doesn't legalize it. All it says is the citizens of York - if it passes - really want the state and the federal government to address it," says Ron Nowell, a York selectman. He says he supports citizens' right to vote on the issue. But personally, as a combat veteran, he supports legalizing marijuana.
"You know, I've got a number of veteran friends, and they don't have the money to go to a doctor and pay $250 to get a prescription or whatever," he says. "And, they need it, to deal with the stresses of PTSD."
Scott Gagnon of Smart Approaches to Marijuana is asking the Marijuana Policy Project to set aside its push to legalize marijuana and instead collaborate to solve existing marijuana policy issues. David Boyer says the Policy Project will come to the table once SAM acknowledges that marijuana is safer than alcohol.