YORK — The Board of Selectmen on Monday put the brakes on a petition to legalize marijuana in town, but the push to get the issue on the November ballot is likely not over.

In a 3-2 vote, the board rejected moving the proposed ordinance to a November referendum, meaning marijuana legalization advocates will need to collect 613 more signatures to force a vote.

Supporters of legalization said they will probably start a new signature collection drive soon.

The proposal to legalize recreational marijuana use in town also got a chilly reception from residents during a public hearing Monday night. All but two of the 13 people who spoke oppose legalizing marijuana in town. Many cited concerns about public health, law enforcement and the effects of increasing access to the drug.

York was the first of three communities to take up petitions from legalization advocates trying to force votes this fall. Portland legalized recreational marijuana use last November.

The proposals would have more political significance than practical effect because marijuana will remain illegal under state and federal laws. Legalization advocates hope the efforts build momentum toward a statewide legalization vote, perhaps in 2016.


The push for municipal votes comes as polls show Americans are increasingly supportive of legalization, and just after the New York Times came out in support of letting states open the door to legal marijuana use.

In 2012, Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize recreational use of marijuana. In November 2013, Portland became the first city on the East Coast to pass a referendum declaring recreational use by adults to be legal, although it remains illegal in Maine under state law.

And last year was the first time a clear majority of Americans – 58 percent – said in an annual survey that the drug should be legalized. When the Gallup polling company first asked the question in 1969, only 12 percent favored legalization.

On Sunday, The New York Times published an editorial supporting the rights of states to legalize marijuana and arguing that the war on drugs has been a failure when it comes to pot.

“For too long, politicians have seen the high cost – in dollars and lives locked behind bars – of their pointless war on marijuana and chosen to do nothing. But many states have had enough, and it’s time for Washington to get out of their way,” the Times wrote.

York, South Portland and Lewiston were chosen as test communities because they represent a wide spectrum of Mainers, according to supporters. After the group began collecting signatures, the South Portland City Council passed a nonbinding resolution opposing the legalization campaign.


David Boyer, Maine political director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said the long-term plan is to have a statewide vote on the issue in 2016.

The proposed ordinance would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and paraphernalia. The petition also contains language that the town would resolve to support a change in state law to tax and regulate the sale of marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol.

Much of the board discussion Monday night was whether to move the petition forward. Selectmen Ronald Nowell and Torbert Macdonald said the town charter requires selectmen to put the question on the ballot, but other board members said they only have to put “lawful” petitions to voters. Chairwoman Mary Andrews, vice-chairman Robert Palmer Jr. and board member Jon Speers voted against putting the question on the November ballot.

Andrews said she is required to uphold local, state and federal laws, and this ordinance is asking her to break the law.

Nowell is sure the legalization advocates, who collected more than 900 signatures to put the issue before the board, will be back with more signatures.

“I know that group; they’ll come back with 613 signature and we won’t have a choice. We’ll have to put it on the ballot,” he said. “Let the people decide.”


Police Chief Doug Bracy said if the ordinance passes in York, his officers will continue to enforce state law. Last year, York police cited 96 adults 21 and older for possession of marijuana. About 40 people attended the hearing, but most did not speak.

Scott Gagnon, state coordinator of Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine, urged York residents to use caution in considering legalizing recreational use. He said the normalization of marijuana leads to more substance-abuse problems, especially among teens.

“Even if only symbolic, this symbolism is important and comes with real consequences,” he said.

Devon Rowe, a recent college graduate who works with high school students, said teens don’t think marijuana is dangerous, which could lead to more addiction issues if access is easier.

Boyer, of the Marijuana Policy Project, said the proposed ordinance is simple.

“This does nothing to increase access to marijuana,” he said. “All it does is remove the penalties for adults who are 21 and older.”


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