Portland, Maine May Become First East Coast City To Legalize Pot

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A year after Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana, the first East Coast city will vote today on whether to drop all punishment for marijuana possession.

The proposed ordinance in Portland, Maine, would allow those 21-and-older to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and paraphernalia. Unlike in Colorado and Washington, sale and production of the drug would not be made legal (that would require state action). The initiative thus lies somewhere between legalization and decriminalization. The entire state of Maine has already decriminalized possession of 2.5 ounces or less of marijuana, meaning possession is only a civil infraction, and not accompanied by criminal punishment.

While city ordinances cannot enact the same change as state ballot initiatives, they are viewed as an important vehicle for building momentum in the marijuana campaign. As Mike Riggs writes for the Atlantic, several Colorado cities passed their own legalization measures before Colorado passed a statewide measure last year.

Colorado and Washington have not yet implemented their legalization measures. While possession penalties have already been removed, both states are still completing regulations and licensing requirements for the states’ legalized distribution systems, which advocates say are key to driving out the black market, and its associated violence. Colorado residents will vote today on whether to approve a 25 percent tax on marijuana, including a 15 percent excise tax that will go toward school construction, and a ten percent sales tax to fund enforcement.

Marijuana remains federally illegal, but both the federal approach to prosecution and public opinion are shifting. In the most recent poll, support for marijuana legalization hit a record 58 percent.