The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Maine filed a lawsuit in Kennebec County Superior Court on Thursday challenging the Secretary of State’s decision to disqualify the measure from the November ballot. According to the suit, which is now available online at http://bit.ly/1pzNhVO, state officials improperly invalidated thousands of signatures of registered Maine voters and unlawfully denied citizens their constitutional right to vote on the measure.
Campaign leader David Boyer and attorney Scott Anderson announced the details of the suit at a news conference in the office of Portland law firm Verrill Dana. Anderson is representing a group of Maine voters who signed the petition in support of the initiative, including Boyer, State Sen. Eric Brakey, and State Rep. Diane Russell, among others.
Last week, the Secretary of State’s Office announced that the proposed initiative did not qualify for the November ballot. 61,123 signatures of registered Maine voters were required, and state officials determined that initiative backers submitted 51,543 valid signatures. In a document explaining their determination, state officials said they invalidated more than 5,000 petitions, which included more than 26,000 total petition signatures, solely due to their finding that the signature of a notary did not “match” the signature the state has on file. It appears more than 17,000 signatures were otherwise valid signatures of registered Maine voters.
According to the initiative backers’ lawsuit, the Secretary of State’s decision is flawed because the disputed signatures do, in fact, match those on file and because the Secretary of State acted outside his authority in invalidating the petitions.
The Secretary of State did not provide any factual findings to explain how the notaries’ signatures on the petitions differed from those on file, and neither the state constitution nor the governing statute authorize the Secretary of State to disqualify otherwise valid petitions based on a subjective comparison of signatures performed by a non-expert employee. The suit also points out instances in which the Secretary of State invalidated petitions because the signature of the individual who notarized them did not match the signature on file, but validated other petitions in which the same individual signed as a circulator using the same signature.
After months of hard work, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Maine have submitted over 100,000 signatures to the Maine Secretary of State. This effort would not have been possible without the dedication of Mainers who believe in ending the failed policy of marijuana prohibition, and the sheer number of signatures is a good indicator of how badly the people want to bring this issue to voters.
Soon, we will hear back from the Secretary of State, but we are very confident that our campaign collected enough valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot.
Two competing marijuana initiative campaigns in Maine announced they will unite behind one state ballot measure to end marijuana prohibition in 2016.
The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, backed by MPP, will stop collecting signatures in support of the initiative it filed in March and spearhead the campaign in support of a similar initiative filed in February by Legalize Maine. Each of the campaigns has collected approximately 40,000 signatures, and they will work together to collect the remaining signatures needed to qualify for the November 2016 ballot. They have until January to collect a total of approximately 61,000 valid signatures of registered Maine voters.
Portland Press Herald reports:
The development ends the fragmentation among supporters of legalization that made the movement vulnerable to divisions by opponents, and it also eliminates the possibility that voters would pass two legalization questions, which would have forced the legalization language into the hands of the Legislature.
While advocates say they’re confident Maine is ready for legalized marijuana, they were also concerned having two very similar proposals on the ballot would create confusion about voters who would have to parse out the differences. If both qualified for the ballot and were approved, the Legislature would have had to undertake the messy task of sorting out conflicts in statute.
“We’ve all been concerned about having two initiatives and splitting the vote,” said state Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, a longtime legalization advocate who has supported the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. “I think when it comes down to it, the people of Maine support legalizing marijuana in a responsible, safe manner. There would have been confusion about which one to support.”
"Joining forces is the best step forward, not only for our respective campaigns, but for Maine as a whole," said David Boyer, campaign manager for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. "We all agree marijuana prohibition has been a colossal failure and that it must be replaced with a system in which marijuana is legal for adults and regulated like alcohol. We can more effectively accomplish our shared goal by combining our resources and working together instead of on parallel tracks.
“We had some differences of opinion on some of the specifics, but our initiatives were largely similar overall. We would not get behind this measure unless we were 100% confident that it will effectively and responsibly end prohibition in Maine. We’re also confident that the voters will agree."
State legislators in Maine are planning to introduce at least four marijuana-related bills in the upcoming session.
From the Portland Press Herald:
The marijuana OUI bill is being proposed by the Department of Public Safety, which wants to set a limit that will allow police officers to determine when a driver is too stoned behind the wheel.
Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, said she will introduce her fourth bill to tax and regulate the use of recreational marijuana. She said this bill will be the Legislature’s last chance to get out in front of two competing citizen initiatives that are likely to end up on the 2016 ballot. Two groups – the Marijuana Policy Project and Legalize Maine – plan to launch petition drives to collect signatures for 2016 referendums to legalize recreational drug use, as the states of Colorado and Washington have both done. The two proposals differ in approach and details, such as whether marijuana use should be limited to private homes or allowed in social clubs.
Russell also will sponsor a bill to remove the list of qualifying conditions for which patients can be approved to use medical marijuana. That would effectively leave it to patients and doctors to determine when the drug might help with a medical condition. Previous bills have been introduced to expand the number of approved conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
Hillary Lister, director of Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, anticipates legislation specifying that the state cannot collect identifying information about medical marijuana patients. She said patients and caregivers are concerned about a recent rule change that requires medical providers to give patients a certification card that is generated through an online portal.
The Department of Health and Human Services also will propose amendments to the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Act, but details of those amendments will not be released until the bill is finalized and the language becomes public, said department spokesman David Sorensen.
A city ordinance in Portland, Maine went into effect last Friday, December 6th that will allow those individuals who are 21 and over to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana. The government passed the ordinance in November, while similar ordinances passed in three cities in Michigan. While residents are still subject to state and federal laws regarding marijuana possession, they sent local law enforcement a clear message about their priorities: voters in Portland do not want penalties associated with marijuana possession. Unfortunately, the Portland Police Department has not listened.
There were only 54 marijuana citations given out last year in Portland. While Mayor Brennan expects the number to decrease this year, Police Chief Michael Sauschuck wants his officers to continue to use their own discretion when deciding whether or not to issue marijuana citations pursuant to state laws, just as they have always done. Even though the police have handed out a modest number of citations in the past, their refusal to change their policies disregards the will of the voters. Furthermore, studies show that police officers arrest minorities at disproportionately high rates for marijuana possession, an inequality that citizens and legislators can combat by actually removing penalties associated with possession.
Although some resistance to implementation of the city ordinance in Portland exists, State Representative Diane Russell is optimistic about the future of Maine’s marijuana policy.
She said it’s inevitable that others will follow Portland’s lead. Already, possession of marijuana is legal in Colorado and Washington state.
‘‘It sends a message to people across the country that Maine is going to be leading the way developing a more rational policy than prohibition,’’ she said.
The past month has seen the state of Maine take some notable steps toward positive marijuana policy reform. On June 7, a bill to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol, LD 1229, was narrowly defeated. Despite losing this time, this marked one of the best votes in a state legislature for a legalization bill. The sponsor, Portland Democrat Rep. Diane Russell, has vowed to continue pushing for this legislation.
Even if statewide change may be slow in coming, activists aren’t waiting around to promote policy alternatives at the local level. Earlier this month, petitioners submitted the signatures required to propose a ballot initiative in the city of Portland that would make possession of marijuana legal for adults. MPP and other groups have been taking every opportunity to educate voters about this initiative, including at a recent beer festival, where Maine political director David Boyer informed attendees about the objective safety of marijuana compared to alcohol.
And on Wednesday, the Maine Legislature approved a bill that would add post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of qualifying conditions for its medical marijuana program. Maine will now join California, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, and New Mexico in allowing marijuana to be used to treat PTSD.
Maine Bill to Tax and Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Receives Near Majority Support in State House Vote
A proposal to let Maine voters decide if marijuana should be regulated like alcohol received near majority support Friday in a vote of the Maine House of Representatives.
The proposed amendment to LD 1229, a bill introduced by Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) with a bipartisan group of 35 co-sponsors, was defeated 71-67. It would have placed a measure on the ballot calling on the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services, Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages, and Lottery Operations to develop rules and legislation for a legal marijuana market for adults 21 years of age or older. The proposal will now be considered in the Senate where it must receive a simple majority to be sent back to the House for reconsideration. A two-thirds majority will then be required to refer the measure to the ballot.
This is some of the highest level of support seen for such a bill in a state legislature. Recently, the Colorado legislature approved bills to establish regulations for the legal marijuana market. HB 1318 received votes of 37-27 in the House and 25-10 in the Senate. HB 1317 got 35-29 votes in the House and 32-3 in the Senate, and SB 283 was 62-3 in the House and 32-2 in the Senate.
As more and more states consider reforming their marijuana laws, we can hopefully expect the level of support to rise as more of their constituents come to see the failure of marijuana prohibition.
Democratic and Republican lawmakers in Maine unveiled the details of a new bill that would make Maine the third state in the nation to make marijuana legal for adults 21 and older and establish a system in which marijuana is regulated and taxed like alcohol.
If approved during this session, the “Act to Tax and Regulate Marijuana,” formulated by state Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) and supported by Rep. Aaron Libby (R-Waterboro), will be referred to voters in the upcoming November election. If the measure gets carried over and approved during the next legislative session, it will be placed on the November 2014 ballot.
“When it comes to keeping marijuana away from teens, keeping marijuana in an unregulated underground market is the worst possible policy,” Rep. Russell said. “Instead, marijuana should be sold by legitimate, taxpaying businesses in a tightly regulated market.”
Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) is seeking to make Maine the third state in the country to legalize and regulate the adult use of marijuana. The measure would allow anyone 21 or older to purchase up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana from a licensed retailer. Sen. Russell discussed the bill and its advantages on MPBN’s Maine Watch:
State lawmakers will debate the bill this spring. If the measure makes it through the legislature, it’ll be sent to referendum. MPP's Maine Political Director, David Boyer, has worked closely with Sen. Russell on her push to put the decision of marijuana reform into voters’ hands: