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Maine Lawmakers Reject Bill To Remove Marijuana From State’s Criminal Code And Expunge Past Convictions



“Marijuana should be dealt with like alcohol and other substances like that are dealt with.”

By Evan Popp, Maine Morning Star

A legislative panel on Wednesday voted down a measure to take marijuana out of Maine’s criminal code.

The proposal from Sen. Joe Baldacci (D-Penobscot) would have removed marijuana as a scheduled drug in Maine and eliminated crimes that include the unlawful trafficking and possession of the drug. I would also have removed the rule that a person who has a certain amount of marijuana is illegally furnishing it and eliminated any mandatory minimum term of imprisonments for marijuana-related offenses, among other changes.

The bill would have also ordered the Department of Public Safety to expunge criminal convictions and civil violations related to marijuana, although there are concerns about whether such an action would be allowed under Maine’s Constitution.

Maine legalized marijuana via a ballot initiative in 2016 for those 21 years of age or older. People are currently allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of the substance.

The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted 8–2 against Baldacci’s bill. Committee members said they were concerned that removing marijuana entirely from the state’s criminal code would leave Maine without any regulatory apparatus for the drug.

Only Reps. Tavis Hasenfus of Readfield and Grayson Lookner of Portland, both Democrats, voted in favor of the bill. However, Hasenfus and Lookner supported an amended version of the measure that would direct a stakeholder group to review the criminal code to determine what, if any, marijuana-related crimes could be removed and what replacement statutes, if any, would be needed. The amendment would also direct that group to report back to the committee with its findings.

In his remarks to the committee Wednesday, Baldacci said he believes the state shouldn’t continue to have marijuana in its criminal code since Maine voters opted to legalize the drug through the 2016 referendum.

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“Marijuana should be dealt with like alcohol and other substances like that are dealt with,” he said. “If we’re going to continue [with] a house divided situation here and maintain some elements of criminality in the marijuana system, I think that’s patently unfair and I think it’s a recipe for selective prosecution of people.”

Baldacci was referring to a study from the ACLU in 2020 that found that Black people in Maine were four times more likely than white people to be arrested in 2018 for cannabis possession despite similar rates of usage.

The bill will next move onto the full legislature, where it may face a difficult path forward with the majority of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee having voted against it.

This story was first published by Maine Morning Star.

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