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Maine Marijuana Legalization Campaign Clears Another Hurdle

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap announced Wednesday that he will not appeal a judge’s ruling from last week that revived the campaign to get a marijuana legalization referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Dunlap said his office will now move forward with a review of the signatures on the petitions, to verify that they were made by registered Maine voters. Under Maine ;aw, 62, 123 voter signatures are needed to qualify for the ballot.

Concerns were raised by Dunlap in a March 2 determination about variations in the signatures of the notaries who validated the signed petitions in the referendum campaign.

However, Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy ruled on April 8 that Dunlap erred when he made that decision. Murphy’s ruling puts the burden back on Dunlap’s office to verify individual voter signatures against voting records.

“We will, as expeditiously as possible, conduct this inquiry with the goal of issuing a new determination that will endure all scrutiny; if sufficient signatures are validated, there should be no reason at that juncture for the people to be uneasy about the legitimacy of these petitions,” Dunlap said in a statement. “As I stated when our decision was released on March 2, it is not our goal to invalidate the signatures of registered Maine voters.“Our goal is that our review of valid signatures expresses manifestly the expectations of the Constitution that only Maine voters circulate instruments of petition, that only Maine voters affix their signatures to those instruments, and that the oath taken by each circulator is properly administered by those empowered to ascribe oaths. We only validate or invalidate signatures based on those core elements.”

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol filed the court appeal of Dunlap’s determination that 26,779 of the signatures collected were invalid because of concerns about the signatures of the notary. Dunlap said that left the campaign with only 51,543 valid signatures. The campaign had turned in 99,229 signatures on Feb. 1.

The appeal focused largely on the determination that about 17,000 of the 26,779 signatures were invalid for the sole reason that the signatures of notary Stavros Mendros varied and didn’t match what is on file with the secretary of state.

The legalization bill would allow adults to possess up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana and ti 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.

If Maine were to legalize recreational marijuana, it would join Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., in allowing adults to buy and possess the drug. All have passed laws legalizing recreational marijuana despite that marijuana is still illegal on the federal level.

Legalization proposals are expected to be considered this year in Nevada, California, Arizona, Michigan, Massachusetts and Vermont.