Maine Panel Holds Hearing on Marijuana Legalization Bills

Supporters of marijuana legalization are saying it's inevitable in Maine. As two groups gather signatures for different referendum questions for the November 2016 ballot, Maine lawmakers are considering two bills that would regulate and tax marijuana.

The legislature's Criminal Justice Committee held a public hearing on the two bills Wednesday. Portland Democrats Mark Dion and Diane Russell sponsor the two bills, which are largely similar. Dion and Russell say they both want to craft a regulatory structure regarding marijuana sales, and then let the voters decide. They agree on a minimum age of 21, and a 15 percent tax rate.

"Marijuana is not a public safety threat," said Rep. Dion, who is a former Sheriff of Cumberland County. "As I reflect on 32 years in law enforcement, marijuana prohibition hasn't worked."

Dion and Russell both testified in front of the committee Wednesday.

"We should get ahead of this issue," said Russell, alluding to efforts already underway to get marijuana legalization on the ballot.

Two groups are collecting signatures to legalize recreational pot, and put the measures on the November 2016 ballot: a grassroots effort in Maine called Legalize Maine, and a national organization called the Marijuana Policy Project.

The MPP has already led successful efforts to legalize pot for adults 21 and older in Portland and South Portland, and has stated that their goal is to get all of Maine to legalize marijuana.

Opponents told lawmakers Wednesday that public opinion is still in their favor, arguing that allowing adults to use marijuana makes it easier for children to have access to the drug.

Scott Gagnon, the Maine Director of opposition group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said the fact that they are up against four different attempts to legalize pot doesn't change their approach.

"We are demonstrating that there is a large contingency of Mainers who are not ready for any plan," said Gagnon.

But Dion said it's clear that momentum is on their side. "I think the fact that there are four of us here today... shows we are at a tipping point," said Dion.

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