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Maine joins list of states to vote on marijuana legalization this year

On Monday, campaigners handed in nearly double the number of signatures needed to qualify for the ballot. Some of the votes will be bad, but it might be a small minority.

At this moment it looks as though Mainers will be voting on legalization in November. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol turned in more than 103,000 raw signatures for its petition drive. It only need 61,000 valid voter signatures in order to qualify for the November ballot but it’s nearly double.

As a general rule of thumb, initiative and referendum experts counsel petitioners to expect a certain percentage of raw signatures to be deemed invalid , but that figure is usually put around 25% to 30%. In order for this petition to fill, more than 40% of the votes would have to be found invalid. It might not be impossible, but it’s very unlikely that almost half of those votes could be invalid.

According to a poll last spring managed by Critical Insights, a Portland marketing firm, a staggering 65% of Mainers support legalizing the weed, with 79% saying it should be sold in licensed establishments.

The initiative would allow people of 21 or over possess up to 2.5 ounces of pot and grow a limited number of plants in their homes. It would also set up the framework for a tightly regulated system of licensed marijuana retail stores, cultivation facilities, product-manufacturing facilities, and testing facilities. It will also create rules governing the cultivation, testing, transportation, and sale of marijuana. The initiative would enact a 10% tax on marijuana sales.

“This initiative will replace the underground marijuana market with a tightly controlled system of legitimate, taxpaying businesses that create good jobs for Maine residents,” Boyer said. “It will also make Maine safer by allowing enforcement officials to spend more time addressing serious crimes instead of enforcing failed marijuana prohibition laws.”

State Rep. Diane Russel (D-Portland), a long-time legalization supporter, said at a Monday press conference that Maine is ready to take marijuana “out of the shadows and out of the black market.” She scolded the legislature for refusing to act on legalization, but claimed the state’s medical marijuana program pointed in the right direction. “It tells people we were right all long,” she said. “Maine people really do want a rational policy around drug use. Maine has proven we can regulate marijuana responsibly.”

The push for legalization in Maine got of to a bumpy start, with two initiative campaigns that were competing against each other, but the activists were able to overcome acrimony and merge the two campaigns, leading to the unified effort that appears to walk the state down the path to legalization.

So far, only four states; Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington – all in the west, have legalized it. Washington, DC, legalized possession and cultivation, but not sales and distribution. If the initiative makes the ballot and passes, Maine will become the first state east of the Mississippi to legalize it.

However, Vermont is moving toward legalization through the legislative process. That bill has won a first committee vote, but its prospects for passage this year are uncertain. Massachusetts could well end up voting for legalization this year as well. Whether is is Maine, Vermont or Massachusetts,a combination of the above, New England is becoming a real hotbed for reefer reform this year.