A Portland ballot measure legalizing the possession of marijuana for recreational purposes passed with nearly 70 percent of the vote on Tuesday. Under the referendum, Portland residents above the age of 21 may possess up to 2.5 ounces of pot.
Marijuana use is prevalent at Bowdoin, according to a survey administered in February. According to the Orient's 2013 drug survey, 73 percent of respondents from the Class of 2014 have smoked marijuana on campus at least once, a significant increase from 32 percent in their first semester at Bowdoin, according to another Orient survey from 2010.
The new measure makes Portland the first city on the east coast to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes, and comes on the heels of last year’s successful legalization campaigns in Colorado and Washington. The city’s vote echoes a similar situation in Denver, where voters approved legalization by a much tighter margin in 2005 before Colorado’s statewide referendum.
Effective December 6, Tuesday’s ordinance was purely symbolic, as marijuana remains illegal under federal law and only legal in Maine for medicinal use. Portland’s referendum does not establish legal methods of obtaining marijuana, and possession of as much as 2.5 ounces of pot can result in a civil summons and fines of $350 to $1,000 under Maine state law.
“There’s really no change at all, and we’ve been very consistent about that since day one,” said Portland’s Chief of Police Michael Sauschuck in an interview with Maine Pubic Broadcasting Network. “State law pre-empts an ordinance of this sort.”
However, marijuana advocates believe the vote is a promising sign for a statewide campaign in 2016. Medical use of marijuana was legalized in Maine in 1999, and voters approved a new measure in 2009 that allowed the establishment of up to eight nonprofit marijuana dispensaries.
A recent Gallup poll indicated that 58 percent of Americans support the legalization of marijuana. Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), a nationwide non-profit committed to marijuana policy reform, is now focusing 2016 legalization campaigns in Maine, Arizona, California, Nevada, Montana, and Massachusetts, according to The Guardian.
“Portland is just one domino in a series of dominoes that have been falling,” said David Boyer, MPP’s Maine political director, in an interview with the Boston Herald. “With the overwhelming support that we got, you can definitely tell it’s a mandate over here in Portland, that our current policies aren’t working for marijuana and that they want change.”
MPP is considering using citizen petitions to get ordinances similar to Portland’s on 2014 ballots in other Maine communities, such as Lewiston, according to Boyer. Given that voter turnout will likely be much higher next year, these ordinances could give the organization some sense of the level of support for a potential statewide legalization measure in 2016.
“It’s a global movement. Marijuana, in my opinion, is not a hard drug—alcohol can be much worse—nor is it necessarily a gateway drug,” said Leo Fernandez ’14. “My opinion is, if you want to smoke it, smoke it.”