Maine could become one of the first East Coast states to boast legal recreational weed this year, courtesy of activists who defeated a last-ditch challenge from Maine state officials trying to keep a voter initiative on the matter off the ballot in November.
On Wednesday, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap's office conceded that the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol campaign had successfully gathered the 61,000 signatures necessary to put the matter before voters.
Weeks ago, Dunlap told the organizers who had successfully gathered over 100,000 signatures (roughly 60 percent more than the number necessary) that a staggering 48 percent of the names on their list were invalid. Activists challenged the invalidity of their signatures in court, and a Kennebec County Superior Court judge determined that Dunlap's office had improperly invalidated 5,000 petition forms without actually reviewing each one individually. The court ordered Dunlap to perform another count. This time around, Dunlap's office counted and confirmed enough valid signatures for the initiative to qualify for the ballot.
"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 told the Press-Herald. "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."
If voters approve the initiative, adults 21 years of age or older throughout Maine will gain the right to legally possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana, as well as grow up to six flowering plants at home and a larger number of immature plants and seedlings. Unlike other states which have put control of marijuana sales under the purview of liquor control boards, Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol puts licensing and regulation responsibilities under the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. The initiative would impose a 10 percent sales tax on all retail sales.
Maine joins just two other states, Florida and Nevada, which have certified marijuana legalization initiatives for the 2016 ballot so far this year, according to Ballotpedia. But November initiatives may eventually be certified in up to 15 states, with a proposed measure in Massachusetts being the only other likely East Coast contender.