A proposal to legalize recreational use of marijuana is likely headed to Maine voters this fall.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap determined Wednesday that the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol had gathered more than the 61,123 petition signatures from registered Maine voters that are needed to qualify for the ballot. That clears the way for the signed petitions to be submitted to the Legislature.

Lawmakers must either pass the legalization proposal as written – which is extremely unlikely – or allow Maine voters to decide the issue this November.

Dunlap’s decision came after a state court ordered him to take another look at the signatures his office invalidated during its initial review of the petitions. More than 21,000 had been nullified because of what Dunlap called “significant variances” between the notary signatures on the petition sheets and those on file with his office.

“Seven circulators whose petition signatures were invalidated due to the notary signature of Stavros Mendros have submitted affidavits swearing under oath that they signed their petitions in front of Mendros as notary,” Dunlap’s office said in a statement Wednesday. “Based on those sworn statements, Secretary Dunlap has now certified the 11,305 signatures collected by those circulators that meet the requirements to be included as valid signatures, despite the variability in the original notary signature on the circulator’s oath.”

Earlier Wednesday, Maine Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Leigh Saufley removed the last roadblock to Dunlap’s final review of the signatures when she rejected an individual’s request to intervene. In the end, Dunlap’s office determined that the campaign had submitted 62,848 valid signatures, more than 1,700 above the minimum. Lawmakers are likely to vote Friday to send the citizen initiative to voters.


Leaders of the legalization effort cheered the news.

“This November, Maine voters will have the opportunity to adopt a more sensible marijuana policy,” David Boyer, manager for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, said in a written statement. “We are thrilled to finally start transitioning into the more substantive phase of this campaign. It has been a longer wait than expected, but nothing compared to how long the people of Maine have been waiting to end the failed policy of marijuana prohibition.”

Marijuana is already legal for adult recreational use in four states and the District of Columbia. Maine voters first legalized marijuana for medical use in 1999 and have significantly expanded the law since then to set up a network of tightly regulated medical marijuana dispensaries, as well as caregivers.

The legalization bill would allow adults to possess up to 2½ ounces of marijuana and to cultivate a limited number of plants. Retail stores and social clubs would be allowed with municipal approval. Adults would be prohibited from using marijuana in public, with violations punishable by a $100 fine. The bill also would place a sales tax of 10 percent on retail marijuana and marijuana products.

The national legalization campaign, led by the Marijuana Policy Project, set its sights on Maine several years ago because of its history of embracing progressive causes, from medical marijuana to same-sex marriage. Possession of smaller amounts of pot is now a misdemeanor offense in Maine, and voters in Portland and South Portland have already voted to legalize possession, although police in the two cities have pledged to continue enforcing state and federal laws.

The statewide legalization campaign will have to compete for voters’ attention – and advertising air time – with four other ballot initiatives as well as the presidential and congressional elections this November.

Legalization opponents already are gearing up for an election fight.

“Allowing the legalization of marijuana in Maine would worsen our addiction crisis and defeat all of the hard work of the community leaders and citizens who’ve rallied to put plans into place,” said Scott Gagnon of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine. “Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine looks forward to engaging in this statewide conversation. We are confident that when Mainers see the full story of marijuana and what it would mean to have pot dispensaries in their community, they will rise up to reject the marijuana industry agenda, to protect the health of their communities and the futures of their children.”


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