Last week headlines across the state, and even the nation, proclaimed that Portland, Maine, had become the first eastern city to legalize marijuana possession. By an overwhelming majority Portland voters passed Question 1 on their ballots Nov. 5, which removed any local penalty for possession of marijuana up to 2.5 ounces.

However, state and federal laws still apply and local police have to enforce those laws. Likewise it is still illegal to buy or sell marijuana in Portland.

This is far from "legalization," but it is still a good thing.

Under state law, possessing pot in amounts below the 2.5-ounce cutoff remains a civil violation punishable by fines in excess of $350 and those laws supersede any local ordinance — not to mention the federal marijuana laws. So this initiative won’t stop Portland Police officers from citing people for marijuana possession, but they already weren't citing many people — only 54 people were cited last year.

So what was the point of passing the question?

Firstly, it sends a message to the state Legislature, which recently rejected a bill to tax and regulate marijuana statewide by just a few votes. State Rep. Diane Russell, a Democrat, plans to reintroduce a similar measure now that her constituents in Portland have come out and demonstrated how they feel about legalization. All the polls in the world showing pot legalization to be increasingly favorable are not as good as one actual vote. Portland residents came out and put it down on the ballot, and that speaks loudly to our representatives.

Secondly, it provides an example for other Maine cities to follow in the meantime before any statewide legalization could take effect. Last year the city of Belfast considered doing the opposite of Portland, and establishing drug free zones that would attach additional penalties to people found in possession of marijuana in certain public places, like city parks. Thankfully the City Council scoffed at the idea and it was not adopted. Perhaps now they could follow Portland's example and let Belfast voters send a message to our representatives about how we feel regarding marijuana prohibition.

Thirdly, every step we take toward more human drug laws tells young people that Maine is a state pushing forward on issues they care about. Maine has had a long tradition in leading on environmental issues, which appeals to the younger generations, and last year it was one of the first states to vote in favor of marriage equality, another key issue for millenials. If it also leads the East Coast toward marijuana legalization perhaps young people, which this state needs to attract, will give a move up north a second thought.

Finally, while Portland's vote for "legalization" will not have a huge practical effect on the enforcement of marijuana laws in the city, it can highlight the amount of waste that goes into waging a war on weed. In the United States more than half of all rapes and a third of all murders go unsolved. The legalization of marijuana would free tens of billions of tax dollars that had gone to busting people for simple possession and reallocating it to go toward solving more violent crime.

Portland hasn't legalized pot, but it has taken a leadership position in pushing for more rational drug laws in Maine, New England and across the country. Hopefully our local legislators will step forward as well to help end such a harmful and wasteful prohibition.