Four Cities Voted To Remove Penalties For Marijuana Possession

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By a landslide, Portland became the first east coast city to legalize marijuana Tuesday, in a measure that removes all penalties for small-quantity, adult marijuana possession, but does not decriminalize production or sale of pot.

And three Michigan cities passed measures to remove criminal punishment for marijuana possession, bringing the number of Michigan localities that have decriminalized marijuana to 14. In some of these localities, marijuana possession is still a civil infraction that typically carries a ticket and/or fine. But Lansing’s initiative, like Portland’s, removed all civil and criminal penalties.

These initiatives roll back local penalties for possessing less than 1, or less than 2.5 ounces of marijuana (depending on location), regardless of whether it is for medical or recreational use. But they leave residents vulnerable to not just federal prohibition, but existing state laws, which are more likely to impact small-time possessors. And they do not regulate sale or distribution of pot — a component viewed as key to driving out the black market. These initiatives are therefore viewed by many as primarily symbolic — building momentum for a state legalization movement. In Colorado, for example, several cities had legalized marijuana before the state initiative passed in 2012. And advocates plan to attempt passage of a state marijuana bill in Maine through the Legislature. If they can’t achieve that, they are aiming for a ballot initiative in 2016.

In Colorado, a measure to tax marijuana at 25 percent passed easily — capping off the regulatory scheme for recreational marijuana in the state. On top of that, several jurisdictions voted to impose their own local sales taxes on marijuana.