Maine adults likely will have to wait a little longer than expected to start using marijuana legally.
Even if an anticipated recount on Question 1 doesn’t change the results of the Nov. 8 election, the Attorney General’s Office said Tuesday that it may not be legal for adults to use marijuana in Maine until early next year.
Citizen initiatives don’t go into effect until 30 days after the state certifies and the governor proclaims the results, a process that can take as long as 30 days. That means legalization might not take effect until Jan. 7 if the Secretary of State’s Office and the governor take all the time allowed before certifying and proclaiming the results.
The Attorney General’s Office outlined the legal time frame on Tuesday, saying it wanted to correct statements made by legalization advocates that possessing and using pot would become legal the week before Christmas. The Yes on 1 campaign believed the state would take less time to certify election results than the maximum time allowed.
Maine was one of four states that voted last week to legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older. Eight states and Washington, D.C., now have voted to legalize a recreational cannabis market.
However, the No on 1 campaign is planning to contest the Maine results and formally request a recount before the deadline at 5 p.m. Wednesday. Though a recount on Question 1 is expected to take a month, unless the result changes, it is unlikely to affect the date the initiative would take effect, state officials said.
The unofficial tally shows 381,060 votes in support of Question 1 and 376,658 opposed, a margin of 4,402 votes, less than 1 percent, according to unofficial results collected from communities across the state by the Associated Press and the Portland Press Herald. The totals include about 4,000 absentee ballots received by the state from members of the military and Mainers living overseas.
After an election, municipal clerks have three business days to send their results to the Secretary of State’s Office, which compiles official results. The office must complete the official results within 20 calendar days of Election Day, in this case by Nov. 28. Gov. Paul LePage then has 10 calendar days – until Dec. 8 – to proclaim the results.
That action by the governor sets the clock ticking for the date the new law takes effect. If the secretary of state and the governor take the full amount of time allotted to certify the results, the new marijuana law will go into effect on Jan. 7.
The referendum proposal, if it stands, will make it legal for adults to possess as much as 2.5 ounces of marijuana. Marijuana stores and social clubs would likely not open for a year or so, to give the state time to set up licensing and regulatory rules. Individual communities also may consider zoning rules for retail stores and social clubs, or ban them outright.
Secretary of State Matt Dunlap estimated that a recount on the statewide marijuana referendum would cost his office and the Maine State Police about $500,000. State troopers would have to go to each of the state’s 503 municipalities to pick up the sealed ballot boxes and then deliver them to the Secretary of State’s Office for the manual recount.
In addition to a possible recount, LePage has said he might challenge the referendum results. LePage said after the election that he will ask President-elect Donald Trump if his administration will enforce federal law against marijuana possession, before he decides whether to challenge the referendum vote.
A LePage spokesperson did not immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment on LePage’s plans related to Question 1.