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Maine fails to legalize marijuana

Published time: November 22, 2013 16:25
Edited time: November 22, 2013 18:19
Reuters/Jason Redmond

Reuters/Jason Redmond

An effort to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Maine has failed in the state’s Legislative Council, which vets bills before they can be introduced for consideration.

The bill would have legalized, taxed, and regulated the use of marijuana in the state, but it failed to gather majority support in the council. The final vote was 5-5, and the bill will not be considered again until 2015.

The tabling of the bill comes after Portland, Maine, became the first city on the East Coast to officially legalize the drug earlier this month.

"Portland had spoken so loudly that it's a shame that Legislative Council didn't listen to them," said Democratic state Rep. Diane Russell, who introduced the bill, to the Portland Daily Sun. About 81 percent of votes in Russell’s district voted for Portland’s initiative to legalize pot, which passed easily citywide with 70 percent support overall.

If Russell’s measure had passed its initial vote, it would’ve been brought up for consideration during the state’s four-month second legislative session that begins on January 1. Under Maine’s constitution, this session is reserved for emergency and budget-related bills, and according to one of the council’s nay votes, there is simply not enough time to debate and analyze such an important proposal.

"We're going into a short session [in January], and for Portlanders and Mainers this short session is exactly four months, and for a bill that is this complex and this big, I did not feel it had the time to have the stakeholders come together," said Democratic state Senator Justin Alfond, whose district is also located in Portland, to the Daily Sun.

Supporters of the bill, including Marijuana Policy Project Political Director David Boyer, told the Huffington Post it’s disappointing to see Alfond vote against a bill his constituents overwhelmingly support.

"To have a senator that represents a large portion of Portland, where an average of 80 percent of voters supported the initiative, is kind of disheartening,” Boyer said.

Despite the setback, Russell thanked the council members who voted in favor of her proposal and vowed to continue pushing for its passage in the future.

“I appreciate the bipartisan members who voted with everyday Mainers,” Russell said. “It’s disappointing that we were one vote shy, but we will continue to work toward a pragmatic approach that will protect children while also protecting the liberties of our citizens.”

So far, only two states – Colorado and Washington – have legalized the use of pot, though numerous states, including Maine, allow the sale of medical marijuana.