Is Maine about to legalize pot?

While there are a number of headlines running around which might lead you to believe the contrary, the short answer to the title question is… no. There is a vote coming up in Maine regarding decriminalization of marijuana, but it’s neither state-wide nor a total lifting of prohibitions against the use of pot. It’s a referendum driven by the public rather than the legislature and it only applies to a single city.

Advocates of recreational marijuana use are looking to an upcoming vote in Maine as an indicator of whether the East Coast is ready to follow in the footsteps of Colorado and Washington by legalizing cannabis.

Voters in Portland are being asked whether they want to make it legal for adults 21 and over to possess — but not purchase or sell — up to 2.5 ounces of pot. The Nov. 5 vote is being eyed nationally as momentum grows in favor of legalizing marijuana use.

The Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C.-based group that supports legalization, says it targeted Portland because it’s Maine’s largest city and because, unlike many other states and cities, it has an initiative process to get the referendum on the ballot. Organizers hope passage of the Portland initiative could spur similar results in other liberal Northeast cities.

I understand that there’s still a very contentious debate taking place over legalizing pot – both here and all over the country – but this type of initiative represents a different problem than the basic question of legalization. (For the record, yes… I tend to support general legalization for those over 21, taxing it and regulating it the same way we do alcohol or tobacco. Your mileage may vary.)

How does an initiative in a single city, not affecting the rest of the state – to say nothing of the country – change anything? And even more to the point, what should the country make of laws which make it legal, as in the Portland initiative, to posses a limited amount of marijuana, but not to buy it or sell it? Unless you happen to live in some magical area where pot plants sprout freely from the ground where you can pick it, take it home and dry it out, how would you legally obtain it for recreational use? And what’s with the limit on volume for something intended to be “recreational?” I can think of no parallel in the law. If you want to go out and buy one six-pack of beer before the football game, that’s fine. But if you want to back your truck up and buy twenty cases so you don’t need to go shopping again for a while, that’s fine too. Limiting the legal amount of the product you can own still leaves it in the realm of something illegal, which is a very different question than limiting the age of those who can purchase it.

All in all, it looks to me as if this vote in Maine is nothing more than window dressing to try to make a point, increase a growing national narrative, and get people talking about it. Nothing is actually being “legalized” here even if the vote succeeds.