Portland Lawmaker Hopes To Legalize and Tax Marijuana For Recreational Use
Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize marijuana back in November. Could Maine be next?Portland Democrat Diane Russell is introducing legislation that would make Maine the third state to legalize marijuana for recreational use. “This bill would regulate and tax marijuana, just in a similar fashion to how we tax alcohol,” Russell said. People from the Marijuana Policy Project, a group that supports legalizing marijuana, is working closely with Russell on this measure. “We can take something that’s an economic drain on Maine and turn it into a boom,” David Boyer, a spokesperson for the MPP. Boyer argues marijuana could be a way for Maine to cure some of its economic ills. “All the profits of marijuana is the underground market and the drug cartels. So, you know, let’s shine some light on it and bring it and give it to legitimate business owners and use it as a money maker.”This is Russell’s second attempt at legalizing marijuana in Maine. Her first try was overwhelmingly shot down in the house, 107-39, last June, but Russell says now a door has been opened. “After Washington state and Colorado, it became pretty evident that we were going to see legalization come to this state.”Russell says it’s critical for Maine to be ready when it eventually happens. “It’s really essential that we get ahead of the curve on this. It’s coming to us,” Russell said. “I’d rather have a public, open process. Get a really solid bill. Get a really solid regulatory infrastructure and send it to the people for ratification.”Boyer and the MPP says someone is arrested for a marijuana offense every 42 seconds. 86% of these are for marijuana possession – not for sale or manufacture – and in the United States there are more arrests for marijuana possession each year than for all violent crimes combined. Boyer says that’s a lot of unnecessary costs that could be avoided by the passage of Russell’s bill. “We’re going to save an estimated $26 million and that’s just the factor court fees, enforcement, all that stuff,” Boyer said. “26 million in savings, plus net gain from the excise tax that is going to be on there. That money will go to education and the general fund.”But Windham Republican Senator Gary Plummer doesn’t think the votes in other states will have any bearing on how Maine lawmakers will vote. “We tend to look at what’s best for Maine and even though there is precedent, I’m not seeing that that’s going to have a great deal of affect on the way I vote or the way the legislature in general votes.” Plummer chaired the Joint Standing Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety last session and cast his vote against the proposal. “In the end I found I could not support legalization at this point in time. I’m not sure what’s changed in the last year or two,” Plummer said. He is a member of that committee once again and Russell’s bill will soon be in their hands. He says he’ll keep an open mind and hear all the evidence before casting a vote this time around, but he’s still leaning toward opposing the measure once again. Roy McKinney, Director of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, declined to comment. McKinney said he wants to thoroughly read the bill first. If the bill manages to make it out of the legislature, it still must head to Mainers for a vote.