AUGUSTA — A group advocating for marijuana legalization has gotten state authorization to start collecting signatures to get a question about allowing the drug on the November 2016 ballot.

Legalize Maine wants recreational use of marijuana by adults to be legal in the state. The group must collect more than 61,000 signatures by early next year to send the question to voters.

“This is a historic moment, not just for Maine, but for the nation,” said Paul McCarrier, president of Legalize Maine. “We are the first to put a homegrown initiative on the ballot without backing from national marijuana organizations.”

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, backed by the national group Marijuana Policy Project, has also submitted to the Secretary of State a petition seeking a 2016 legalization vote, but that effort is not as far along in the process. Meanwhile, two Portland Democrats, Rep. Diane Russell and Rep. Mark Dion, have submitted legalization bills.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but Colorado and Washington state legalized the drug for recreational use in 2012. Last year, Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., approved measures to legalize recreational pot. Lawmakers in Rhode Island, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut this year are considering similar legalization measures.

Legalize Maine received its finalized petition from the Secretary of State on Tuesday, according to a department spokesman. The group needs to collect at least 61,123 signatures by Feb. 1 in order for the question to go to voters in November 2016.

Legalize Maine’s proposal would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and grow a limited number of plants. It also creates a system in which the Department of Agriculture will regulate the cultivation, manufacture, testing and sale of marijuana. Towns would have authority to regulate and prohibit marijuana businesses.

The estimate of fiscal impact released Tuesday says that, assuming a law were in effect on Jan. 2, 2017, the state General Fund revenue would increase by $3.8 million in fiscal year 2016-17. Local Government Fund revenue would increase by nearly $205,000 from sales tax in the same year.

“It’s time to put the question before Maine voters. We are confident that Mainers will support our plan to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana as an agricultural product,” McCarrier said. “Marijuana has been an economic engine for Maine’s rural economy for the past 50 years and it’s time for Mainers to decide if they want to legalize that section of the economy or not.”

McCarrier said Legalize Maine volunteers started collecting signatures Tuesday in Augusta.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: grahamgillian