Marijuana

Marijuana: Could Maine pot measure push East Coast states toward legalization?

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"The measure on the ballot in Portland is similar to the initiative approved by Denver voters in 2005," says Mason Tvert, the man behind that 2005 effort and among the principal proponents of Amendment 64.

Tvert is now the communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project and has worked closely with locals to promote the Maine measure. As he notes, Question 1 "simply removes all penalties for possession of up to two and a half ounces for adults 21 and over."

Likewise, citizens in three Michigan cities -- Lansing, Jackson and Ferndale -- will vote on initiatives that would remove local penalties for adult marijuana possession. But there are precedents for this change in that state, where voters in Detroit and Flint made the same move last year, with those in Grand Rapids and Ypsilanti lessening the focus on punishment for weed at the same time. There's no such history in Maine, but Tvert thinks "voters in Portland are ready to end marijuana prohibition, just as voters nationwide appear to be."

This last comment is an allusion to a late October Gallup poll in which 58 percent of respondents supported the legalization of marijuana -- a higher number than in any previous survey by the company. Still, this figure doesn't strike Tvert as a huge surprise.

"Support had already been increasing, and we saw an exceptionally large jump in support over the last year," he points out. "That could be due to a variety of factors. Part of it could be the passage of initiatives in Colorado and Washington to regulate marijuana like alcohol. Part of it could be the memo issued by the Justice Department announcing that it would respect those state laws. And overall, I think both of these things lend to the main reason, which is that marijuana is being talked about more than ever before. And we've seen that the more people talk about marijuana, and marijuana policy, the more support there is for reform."

When it comes to marijuana, Tvert sees plenty in common between Denver and Portland. "Denver is the largest city in Colorado, and Portland is the largest city in Maine," he says. "And we have announced our intention to support measures to regulate marijuana like alcohol in Maine and about a dozen states where we think these laws could pass in the next few years."

The states fall into two categories: those where marijuana laws can be changed via the initiative process, much as was done in Colorado with Amendment 64, and ones where legislatures must act. The initiative states include Maine, Arizona, California, Nevada, Massachusetts and Montana, while Vermont, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Maryland, Delaware and New Hampshire comprise the legislative states.

Despite the shift in public perception epitomized by the Gallup poll, the passage of marijuana reform in so many different places won't be easy, as the situation in New Hampshire shows.

Continue for more about the marijuana vote in Maine and the odds of broader legalization.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts