Brace yourselves, fellow Mainers. We’re about to bear witness to the Battle of the Bongs.

Wednesday’s announcement by Legalize Maine that it will soon begin circulating petitions for a citizens initiative referendum on legalizing marijuana in Maine was, in and of itself, an inevitable step forward in the nationwide movement to remove the penalties from possessing and partaking of pot.

But here’s the rub: The Marijuana Policy Project, based in Washington, D.C., has been in Maine the past two years trying to do the same thing. And if that group makes good on its promise, it too will be circulating its own petitions for its own referendum by early spring.

Meaning Maine’s marijuana future just got a whole lot more clouded.

Or, as Tommy Chong once put it in the Cheech and Chong classic “Up in Smoke,” “Hey man, if we’re gonna wear uniforms man, you know, let’s have everybody wear something different!”

Call it a head-on collision between two philosophies that are essentially the same, only not really.

On one side, we have Legalize Maine, led by Paul McCarrier, who lives just outside Belfast.

A former barkeep at Brian Boru pub in Portland who went on to become the leader of Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, McCarrier sees legalized pot not just as society’s long-overdue embrace of an alternative to, say, the jello shot, but also as a much-needed financial catalyst for Maine’s hinterlands.

“This is a rural Maine economic issue,” McCarrier said in an interview on Friday. “It’s not going to solve all of the problems. It’s not the golden ticket. But it’s a piece of the puzzle.”

On the other side, we have the national Marijuana Policy Project, led in this neck of the woods by David Boyer.

Boyer came to Maine back in 2010 to work for Republican libertarian Ron Paul’s campaign – his partner in that effort was Eric Brakey of Auburn, now a freshman member of the new Republican majority in the Maine Senate.

Since then, as state director for the Marijuana Policy Project, Boyer has spearheaded local pot-legalization efforts in Portland and South Portland, where his side won, and in York and Lewiston, where things didn’t work out quite so well.

Boyer’s thoughts on the prospect of Maine simultaneously voting on two marijuana ballot questions, in all likelihood during the presidential election in November 2016?

“I don’t think it helps,” he replied. As for the Marijuana Policy Project, which has been working for just under two decades to legalize pot nationwide, Boyer observed, “We have the resources and knowledge to do this and see it through.”

And therein lies the bad karma. While Boyer says he’s more than happy to sit down with Legalize Maine and work something out, McCarrier says it’s time for Boyer and the Marijuana Policy Project to buzz off.

“I think it will be more damaging to them than to us, because people are going to recognize that we are the Maine-based effort and that we have the best interests of the state of Maine in mind,” said the ponytailed McCarrier. “David’s a good guy. I think he’s done a good job kind of presenting a … non-marijuana-user image out there. But in the end, it’s his job to work for the D.C.-based organization.”

Legalize Maine’s announcement in the State House Hall of Flags last week came with a framework for its yet-to-be-written legislation.

The measure would impose a limit of six flowering plants at a time on those who want to grow their own and a 2.5-ounce cap on how much someone could carry in public. At the same time, the sky’s the limit when it comes to how much marijuana you could stockpile inside your home.

Other provisions include an 8-percent sales tax on retail marijuana sales, licensing requirements that heavily favor small, rural growers and the establishment of “social clubs” where folks can gather to buy or smoke their weed in peace. (Back in my college days, we called them dorm rooms.)

The Marijuana Policy Project, Boyer said, will release details of its proposal closer to the launch of its petitions sometime around March.

Meanwhile, the sniping has already begun.

McCarrier: “While the MPP has been focused on media stunts … we’ve been going out and doing the hard work of talking to the stakeholders, talking to people who are involved in the industry and outside of the industry to see what’s going to work.”

Boyer: “Having your logo be the state of Maine with an American flag and a pot leaf is probably not the best image.”

McCarrier: “I suspect the motivation (behind the Marijuana Policy Project) is really connected to Big Tobacco and Big Pharma (the pharmaceutical industry). The people who are funding them want to come in and dominate the market.”

Boyer: “It’s really disingenuous to compare Big Tobacco to whatever Big Marijuana might be. You’re talking about a product that’s killed millions and millions of people – and marijuana isn’t that product.”

As for funding from the tobacco industry, he added, “They haven’t donated any money to the Marijuana Policy Project as far as I know.”

Bottom line, a coordinated effort this is not.

Given the rapidly swinging social pendulum when it comes to ending marijuana prohibition once and for all – earlier this month, Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., joined Colorado and Washington state in making pot legal – there’s a decent chance both Legalize Maine and the Marijuana Policy Project will gather the estimated 61,000 signatures needed to put their initiatives on the 2016 ballot.

Vote for legal pot … twice at the same time? The mind boggles.

Then again, Republicans in Augusta, anxious to blunt the bump in left-leaning turnout that marijuana would give to a presidential election, could always roll their own legalization bill in the upcoming session with the provision that it go the voters and be done with by the fall of 2015.

Whatever happens, folks, we’re going to be hearing a lot about pot in the coming months. And unless those pushing for legalization can somehow get their act together, the whole thing ultimately could go up in smoke.

As Boyer put it with tongue firmly planted in cheek, “Can’t we all get a bong?”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.