Maine lawmaker: Marijuana legalization bill modeled after existing medical law

By Stephen C. Webster
Monday, February 4, 2013 10:51 EDT
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Two women share a marijuana cigarette. Photo: Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.
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The Maine lawmaker behind a new bill this session that would legalize marijuana and regulate it similarly to alcohol told Raw Story on Monday that her proposal is modeled so closely after the state’s existing medical marijuana statue that the only thing which would truly change if it passes is the availability of funds in drug cartel bank accounts.

“We already regulate marijuana in Maine,” State Rep. Diane Russel (D), pictured left, said on Monday. “We already have dispensaries. We already do this. We just do it for the medical community. It’s not a huge step — it’s actually a very small step — but it has profound implications.”

Russell, currently serving her third term, watched a similar bill fail in 2012, but said she believes Maine has a much better shot at tackling the problem of black market cartel profits in 2013 thanks to the legalization victories in Colorado and Washington last November.

“Sometimes bills have to percolate before they really resonate,” she said. “When Colorado and Washington decided to regulate marijuana like alcohol, a real snowball came at me. I didn’t think it was going to be that big of a deal, but in the end it’s become a real culture shift, and that shift has really happened across the country.”

Her bill proposes almost exactly what Maine already puts into practice dealing with medical marijuana: purchases will be limited to two-and-a-half ounces of cured and dried marijuana per person and only one purchase every seven days, individuals over 21 years old may not possess more than six fully-grown plants, licenses for sales must be acquired at cost to the business owner, a tax of 7 percent on each sale would be levied, and smoking in public would be punishable by a fine.

“Honestly, that’s what they came up with for medical marijuana,” Russell said. “I have no idea how they came to that number [for cultivation], but I wanted to be consistent with that law.”

If it passes, Russell said “there will be rulemaking” sessions much like in Colorado and Washington “to codify things like THC potency levels because of the fact that those are changing,” she added. “This is not your grandma’s drug. [Some marijuana] is significantly more potent than marijuana has been in the past.”

For Russell, regulating marijuana similarly to alcohol is a “logical” step that she said comes from her father’s influence on her early childhood. “He’s your everyman’s guy, never complained, just loves what he does, and all through my life he’s just been like, ‘They should just legalize it and tax the hell out of it!’” she explained. “And of course my mom, who has a Ph.D. in nursing and laid the groundwork for the anti-tobacco laws in the state, even came down and said, ‘I would never recommend prohibition, it doesn’t work.’”

Russell added that she personally has friends who “make a lot of money” and enjoy marijuana regularly. “They are not the image that the media presents, at all,” she said. “We’re talking about middle-class people. Sometimes they have wine at night. Sometimes they have bourbon. Sometimes they smoke a joint or put it in a pipe. This is not the group of people that I was told it was supposed to be, and I have not seen any ill-effects.”

If Russell’s bill passes the legislature, it will have to be approved by a majority of Maine’s voters in November. It would become law 45 days thereafter.

Photo: Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.

Correction: A prior version of this article incorrectly said adults over 18 would be allowed to possess marijuana. The bill actually refers to adults over 21.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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