The group that opposed the referendum that legalized marijuana in Maine has formally dropped its request for a recount of the close vote last month.
The action, filed Saturday afternoon with the Maine Secretary of State’s Office, stopped the recount two weeks into the process. About a fifth of the roughly 760,000 ballots cast by Maine voters on Question 1 had been recounted.
“We promised folks that if we came to a point where we could not see any chance of reversing the result, we would not drag the process out,” said Newell Augur, legal counsel for the No on 1 campaign. “We are satisfied that the count and the result are accurate.”
The recount of the contentious question, which was narrowly approved by voters on the Nov. 8 ballot, got underway Dec. 5 with both sides claiming they were picking up votes early on in the process.
But as the recount continued, it appeared the tally would not change significantly. Unofficial results of the vote released on Election Day showed the measure passed by 4,073 votes, 381,692 to 377,619.
The anti-legalization campaign gave notice to the director of the Secretary of State’s Bureau of Elections on Saturday afternoon to end the recount, which was on hold for a holiday break until January.
“We are excited and grateful that the No on 1 campaign has decided not to drag this out any longer so we can start the business of implementation and responsibly regulate marijuana,” said David Boyer, manager of the Yes on 1 campaign.
Boyer said that once the results are certified by the secretary of state, which could happen next week, the measure should become legal 30 days after the governor affirms the result.
“Hopefully sometime in January,” said Boyer.
Under the measure, the Legislature has nine months to establish rules to deal with such issues as child-proof packaging, restricting advertising to minors, and licensing.
Boyer said based on the experience of Colorado, the first state to legalize marijuana, stores will be operating about a year after the rule-making is complete.
Officials on both sides of the recount were critical of their opponents during the process, with Yes on 1 accusing opponents of slowing down the recount by not providing enough volunteers. No on 1 criticized legalization proponents of rushing to enact the law.
The recount was expected to take up to a month to complete and cost taxpayers $500,000. Boyer said now that it has stopped, costs should be a lot less and mainly cover the hours put in by Maine State Police troopers, who collected the ballots, and a dozen state employees who helped count ballots with volunteers.
The No on 1 campaign estimated the recount cost less than $15,000 before it was abandoned.
Opponents of a measure that will add an income tax surcharge on high-income Mainers, with the money going toward public education, also sought a recount after that question passed by a narrow margin on Election Day. But the effort was abandoned quickly after opponents cited the cost of a recount and the likelihood that the result would not be changed. Opponents also complained about the proposed recount process, which would have involved representatives of both sides on the income tax question and the marijuana referendum forming recount teams to go through the ballots
Voters’ approval of Question 1 will make it legal for adults to possess up to 2½ ounces of marijuana, grow a limited number of plants and buy marijuana at licensed retail stores.
Maine is one of four states – including Massachusetts, California and Nevada – that legalized marijuana last month. Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington previously legalized the drug.
Maine legalized marijuana for medical use in 1999.
Now that the recounts have been dropped, Gov. Paul LePage will have to issue proclamations certifying the results. Both measures will then take effect in January, but implementing both – as well as other referendums that passed last month – is expected to take months.
Voters on Election Day also approved referendums to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020, institute ranked-choice voting and spend more money on transportation projects. A measure that would have adopted stricter rules on gun sales was defeated.
Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy contributed to this report.