Group campaigns in Maine for leniency in marijuana laws
November 30, 2006
SUMNER, Maine --An organization that advocates for reform of marijuana laws is moving forward in its campaign to make marijuana offenses the lowest law enforcement priority in small towns across western Maine.
The Maine Marijuana Policy Initiative has submitted petitions to officials in five towns calling for marijuana possession and use to be put low on the priority list of local police.
Next year, voters in the Oxford County town of Sumner will vote on a local ordinance that would make adult marijuana-related offenses the "lowest law enforcement priority" in town. A similar proposal could be considered at annual town meetings in Farmington, Paris, West Paris and Athens, where petitions have been delivered to local officials.
Jonathan Leavitt, executive director of the nonprofit Maine Marijuana Policy Initiative, said the strategy is to get the ordinance passed in several small towns before moving on to larger communities.
"The purpose of the ordinance is to let the county, state and federal government know that many people believe the marijuana laws are not working," Leavitt said.
In Farmington, Police Chief Richard Caton said townspeople need to consider what type of people might be drawn to town if the ordinance is enacted. Police also will have to figure out how to fulfill their oaths to uphold state and federal laws while still obeying the local ordinance, he said.
"A better way, if this is the sentiment of the people, is to change the state and federal laws," he said.
Farmington Town Manager Richard Davis said he is seeking a legal ruling from the Maine Municipal Association to see how the proposed ordinance squares with state law.
Leavitt, who lives in Sumner and is a Green Party activist, said the ordinance would prohibit communities from accepting state or federal funds that would go toward the enforcement of marijuana laws.
It would also require police to submit reports on the number and type of marijuana arrests to each municipality that adopts the ordinance, he said. Furthermore, it would require municipalities to notify state and federal officials that they have de-prioritized adult marijuana crimes and to request that the federal and state governments take steps to legally tax and regulate marijuana use, cultivation and distribution.
Current marijuana laws, Leavitt said, are costing taxpayers millions of dollars a year to enforce while blocking "what could be a real significant and sustainable commerce in hemp."
Leavitt presented a petition on Monday to the Sumner selectmen, who then passed a motion to include the ordinance on the August town meeting warrant.
There's no local police department in Sumner, and state Rep.-elect Teresea Hayes, D-Buckfield, asked what good the ordinance would do since the town has no input on how the Oxford County Sheriff's Department provides law enforcement.
The town, she added, does not have the authority to opt out of the part of the county budget used for marijuana enforcement.
Lt. Hart Daley of the Oxford County Sheriff's Department said he was unaware of the petitions, but said the department would continue enforcing drug offenses where it provides law enforcement regardless of the outcome of campaign.
"We still consider drug offenses on the top of the list of our priorities," Daley said.
MMPI is funded through grant money from the national Marijuana Policy Project as well as donations. The group formed in April and opened an office in Lewiston in June.