A group pushing for the legalization of recreational marijuana has submitted signatures to try to force a referendum in York and plans to do the same in two other cities this summer.

Citizens for a Safer Maine on Thursday submitted more than 200 signatures to the York town clerk to start the process of getting an ordinance on the November ballot. Marijuana activists are also collecting signatures in South Portland and Lewiston with the same goal – having residents vote on whether to legalize recreational marijuana use for adults 21 and over.

The campaign is being led by David Boyer of Maine’s chapter of the Marijuana Policy Project, which helped pass a ballot initiative last year in Portland that legalized recreational marijuana use in the city by people 21 or older. He said the longterm plan is to have a statewide vote on the issue in 2016.

“Marijuana is objectively safer than alcohol, and arresting adults for possessing it is a waste of time and resources,” Boyer said. “If voters approve these measures, law enforcement officials can use their discretion to stop punishing otherwise law-abiding citizens and saddling them with criminal records that can hurt them for the rest of their lives.”

After the group began collecting signatures in South Portland, the City Council passed a nonbinding resolution opposing the legalization campaign. Boyer said the group is still collecting the roughly 1,000 signatures each in South Portland and Lewiston needed to put the question on the ballot in those cities. He anticipates signatures will be submitted in South Portland in July and in Lewiston before the city’s deadline of Aug. 8.

Scott Gagnon, coordinator of Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine, said the group he leads was formed around the time of the Portland vote to support local efforts to oppose legalization, which he said is a safety issue. He said SAM Maine will work in any community where legalization efforts are underway.

“I know there’s a lot of concern in York about what legalization will bring,” Gagnon said. “We will do what we can to help them support their community and keep it safe.”

Voting results in the test communities could indicate how a statewide legalization effort might fare in Maine.

Momentum to re-examine drug laws is likely to come to a head in 2016, when voters in Maine and other New England states are expected to take up recreational use at the polls. Marijuana remains illegal under state and federal law.

The proposed ordinances supported by Boyer and fellow activists would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, along with paraphernalia. It would also require a community to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol. Users would be prohibited from consuming marijuana in public and from driving while under the influence of the drug.

York, South Portland and Lewiston were chosen as test communities because they represent a wide spectrum of Mainers.

“We wanted to show that ending marijuana prohibition isn’t something exclusive to Portland. This is a nonpartisan issue,” Boyer said, adding that the reception to signature gathering has been positive. “The biggest thing that myself and other volunteers have realized is that you really can’t stereotype with this issue. The guy with the tattoos doesn’t want to sign it, but the soccer mom couldn’t wait to sign it.”

In York, submitting 100 signatures is enough to put the question to the Board of Selectmen, which will then decide whether to hold a hearing and place the question on the ballot. If not, supporters will have 30 days to collect a number of signatures equal to 10 percent of the local votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election, which would put the question on the local ballot.

Mary Andrews, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said a board discussion about the referendum will be scheduled once the first round of signatures has been verified. She said the board has not discussed marijuana legalization in the past.

Andrews said she was not surprised the group would target York with the petition effort.

“It’s a good place to gather signatures,” she said. “The citizens believe strongly in the right to petition the government.”

Boyer said research by his group showed that York police issue an average of more than two citations per week related to marijuana possession. The signatures were submitted in York by Sherry DaBiere, a resident and local Realtor.

“Adults should not be punished for possessing small amounts of marijuana, and our laws should reflect that,” she said in a prepared statement.