2014-11-07 / Front Page

South Portland PD to still cite pot users

By Duke Harrington
Contributing Writer


During a post-election campaign rally at Thatcher’s restaurant, David Boyer, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, reacts to Tuesday’s referendum vote, at which South Portlanders agreed to legalize possession of marijuana. (Duke Harrington photo) During a post-election campaign rally at Thatcher’s restaurant, David Boyer, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, reacts to Tuesday’s referendum vote, at which South Portlanders agreed to legalize possession of marijuana. (Duke Harrington photo) SOUTH PORTLAND — The city of South Portland took a significant, if symbolic, step Tuesday, voting to legalize possession of marijuana in small amounts for recreational use.

With 66 percent of registered voters weighing in, 52.4 percent of voters approved a new ordinance that will allow people age 21 and older to possess and use one ounce or less of marijuana, and “marijuana paraphernalia,” within city limits.

The vote was 6,326 for the ordinance and 5,755 against, with 374 ballots left blank on the question.

As votes were tallied at city hall, the early count made it appear as though the citizen-initiated measure might go down to defeat. The legalization effort failed among absentee voters, with 55.7 of those who cast ballots early saying no. But Councilor Maxine Beecher called an ill omen in the early lead.

“Absentees are usually older voters,” she said, as she paced outside the city clerk’s office, waiting for full results. “I was at the community center and I saw large numbers of high school kids and college-age kids coming though the line, and I thought, ‘Big trouble.’”

Sure enough, once the votes came in, the tide turned. The tally at the community center, which serves as the polling place for Districts 3 and 4, was the closest, with 51.6 percent in favor of legalization. Elsewhere, the yes vote ranged from 54.3 percent (District 5) to 59.5 percent (District 1) in favor.

“I’m disappointed with the results,” said Scott Gagnon, director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “But it doesn’t really affect us. We’ll keep soldiering on. There are still a lot of Mainers who have yet to speak on this.”

One bright spot for Gagnon showed itself after results from Lewiston came in. There, a similar vote went down to defeat, 6,044 to 7,366.

“Combining results, the net is more Mainers voted against marijuana legalization tonight,” wrote Gagnon in a Twitter post later in the evening.

However, despite the loss in Lewiston, David Boyer, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, was all smiles at Thatcher’s restaurant, during a post-election rally.

“We applaud the voters of South Portland for approving a more sensible approach to marijuana,” he said, as supporters hooted and hollered behind him for the television cameras. “They saw through the scare tactics and misinformation that have long kept marijuana illegal in this country. They chose facts over fear.”

Boyer has said the legalization drives in South Portland and Lewiston, as well as in York, where councilors were able to keep the initiative off the ballot, is preparatory to a statewide push in 2016.

“That effort starts tomorrow,” he said.

Meanwhile, South Portland Police Chief Ed Googins said the vote would have no effect on how his officers deal with marijuana enforcement.

Citations will still be issued, he said, just as they continue to be in Portland, where residents voted for legalization in 2013, by a 2-1 margin.

“I obviously was hoping this would be defeated, although I am well aware of the changing attitudes about marijuana in society,” Googins said. “Regardless, we will continue to enforce state law. State law supersedes a local ordinance. That’s just the way it is. When we arrest someone for shoplifting or anything else, and they’re in possession of marijuana, we’re going to cite them for that as well.”

Although Boyer and his supporters have spoken of the need to decriminalize marijuana, claiming its effects are less harmful than alcohol, Googins points out it is not a crime to possess small amounts of the drug.

Since 1976, it has only been a civil offence in Maine to posses 2.5 ounces or less of marijuana. A citation draws a fine, but no jail time.

Still, supporters of legalization say the social stigma for a marijuana mark on one’s record is out of proportion to the “crime.”

“I don’t believe the consequences of a small drug offense, such as possession of marijuana, warrant the penalties of that,” said Kyle Dixon, 28, an independent landscaper and South Portland resident. “For instance, you become ineligible for a college loan, you’re ineligible for a federal grant for business development. You’re ineligible for a lot of things with a drug offence, whereas alcohol is a lot more harmful and causes a lot more problems.”

Dixon said he campaigned door-to-door on behalf of the yes campaign, logging “five to six hours a day for the last five weeks.”

Boyer says his group spent more money in Lewiston, including renting a truck to display a “rolling billboard,” but the ground game in South Portland was much stronger, with numerous volunteers like Dixon making the rounds, knocking on doors and posting signs.

Those signs far outnumbered the competition.

“I said right along, if the number of signs dictates who wins, they’re for sure going to win,” Beecher said. “We were just a small citizens’ group. We didn’t have any money.”

Beecher said the coalition she helped lead against the marijuana vote was only able to afford 100 signs. Of those, 72 ended up stolen or vandalized, she said.

“They were taken, broken, spray painted with swastikas, everything you can imagine, but nobody was caught,” she said.

Beecher said her group will not attempt a counter-petition, in hopes of undoing Tuesday’s vote. Instead, they will set their sights on 2016.

“I have to say I’m extremely disappointed,” she said of the vote. “This is about kids. The truth is, most of the alcohol use among kids comes right out of the parents’ house, or grandma’s house. Marijuana will come right out of there, too, as long as people think that’s a good thing to do. Kids learn what they live.”

Return to top