A committee in Augusta heard about a new bill Wednesday that would change limits and fines for marijuana possession. Rep. Patsy Crockett introduced the measure, which she says would streamline and clarify current law.
The bill would raise the amount of what's a non-criminal offense when it comes to marijuana possession, from one and a quarter ounces, to four ounces. It would also redefine criminal possession - and is already getting mixed reviews.
Crockett says local prosecutors approached her to propose the bill last summer, to save the state money prosecuting people who they say they can't prove are criminals intent on distributing.
"Because if somebody is in possession of a small amount of marijuana for their own use," says Crockett, "then they probably are not a criminal. So it saves the state money in court-appointed legal fees and the expense of a criminal trial."
The bill would make possession of up to four ounces of marijuana a civil violation.
Those opposed to the bill as it stands now include the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency.
Director Roy McKinney says he agrees with better defining criminal marijuana possession, but says the new standard would be too much of a departure.
"This bill's proposal would give Maine the distinction of having the most extreme policy, if you will, with regard to simple possession of marijuana - by far," he says. "Most states have settled on about one ounce as that threshold for decriminalized possession."
McKinney says given that Maine youth have one of the highest marijuana use rates in the country, he doesn't want the state to appear to be loosening the rules.
"I definitely don't think they should lighten up on anything like that," says Bangor resident Ryan Matthews. "I think they should crack down maybe harder on it."
The Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Maine ACLU support the bill.
"I think it's an excellent idea," says Christopher Ruhlin of Bangor. "I think Maine needs to take a mature, realistic assessment of the situation...to have a responsible person using cannabis is completely normal, millions of people do it everyday."
by Sarah Komuniecki
Feb 25th 2009