Drugs

Maine Joins the Growing List of States to Vote on Marijuana Legalization This Year

Campaigners on Monday handed in nearly double the number of signatures needed to qualify for the ballot. Some will be bad, but that's a pretty big cushion.

Photo Credit: RomboStudio / Shutterstock.com

It looks like Mainers will be voting on legalization in November. Monday, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol turned in more than 103,000 raw signatures for its petition drive. It only needs 61,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

As a general rule of thumb, initiative and referendum experts counsel petitioners to expect a certain percentage of raw signatures to be deemed invalid, but that figure is usually put around 25% to 30%. For this petition drive to fail, more than 40% would have to be found invalid. It's not impossible, but it's very unlikely.  

"Over the past eight months, we've talked to more than 100,000 voters across the state, from Kittery to Caribou," said campaign manager David Boyer. "Most Mainers agree it is time to end the failed policy of marijuana prohibition, and they will have the opportunity to do it this November."

According to a poll last spring from the Portland marketing firm Critical Insights, a whopping two-thirds (65%) of Mainers support legalizing the weed, with nearly four out five (79%) saying it should be sold in licensed establishments.

The initiative would let people 21 or over possess up to 2.5 ounces of pot and grow a limited number of plants in their homes. It would also set up the framework for a tightly regulated system of licensed marijuana retail stores, cultivation facilities, product-manufacturing facilities, and testing facilities, and it would create rules governing the cultivation, testing, transportation, and sale of marijuana. The initiative would enact a 10% tax on marijuana sales.

"This initiative will replace the underground marijuana market with a tightly controlled system of legitimate, taxpaying businesses that create good jobs for Maine residents," Boyer said. "It will also make Maine safer by allowing enforcement officials to spend more time addressing serious crimes instead of enforcing failed marijuana prohibition laws."

Maine is ready to take marijuana "out of the shadows and out of the black market," state Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland), a long-time legalization supporter, said at a Monday press conference. She scolded the legislature for refusing to act on legalization, but said the state's medical marijuana program pointed in the right direction. "It tells people we were right all along," she said. "Maine people really do want a rational policy around drug use. Maine has proven we can regulate marijuana responsibly."

The push for legalization in Maine got off to a bumpy start, with two competing initiative campaigns, but activists were able to overcome acrimony and merge the two campaigns, leading to the united effort that appears to set the state down the path to legalization.

So far, only four states—Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington—all in the West, have voted to legalize it at the ballot box. Washington, DC, legalized possession and cultivation, but not sales and distribution. If the measure actually makes the ballot and passes, Maine could become the first state east of the Mississippi to legalize it.

But Vermont is moving toward legalization through the legislative process. That bill has won a first committee vote, but its prospects for passage this year are uncertain. And Massachusetts could well end voting for a legalization initiative this year, too. Whether it's Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, or some combination of the above, New England is becoming a real hotbed for reefer reform this year.

 

 

Phillip Smith is editor of the AlterNet Drug Reporter and author of the Drug War Chronicle.