Pubdate: Mon, 24 Nov 2014
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2014 Associated Press
Author: Patrick Whittle, Associated Press
Page: A17


South Portland, Maine (AP) - Marijuana advocates want to finally take 
their legalization drive - so far the province of Western states - to 
the Northeast, and they say the first state to do it here might be Maine.

The Pine Tree State has a long history with cannabis - Maine voters 
approved medical marijuana legalization 15 years ago, becoming the 
first New England state to do so. Now, national marijuana advocates 
say, the state represents a chance for pro-marijuana forces to get a 
toehold in the Northeastern states they have long coveted.

Supporters of marijuana legalization say part of their focus on Maine 
is schematic - the ease of Maine's citizen-led public-ballot 
initiative process makes it a more viable target than states where 
laws can only be changed through complicated state legislative 
battles. Pro-legalization advocates also cite a pair of recent 
victories in municipal legalization drives - Portland, the state's 
largest city, last year and South Portland, its fourth-largest, this month.

Maine also decriminalized the possession of small amounts of 
marijuana nearly four decades ago, and the state has a sizeable 
network of eight dispensaries and more than 1,500 legal growers. The 
favorable climate for legalization has national and local pro 
marijuana groups gearing up for a potential statewide legalization 
ballot initiative in 2016.

"It's quite possible that Maine could be the first state in the 
Northeast to legalize marijuana and other states would follow," said 
Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Washington, 
D.C.-based Drug Policy Alliance.

Marijuana reformers across the country scored a series of wins on 
election night, when Oregon, Alaska and the District D.C. all went 
legal. Maine supporters are crafting the ballot initiative for the 
2016 election cycle, according to David Boyer, a Falmouth resident 
and political director for the D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project.

The petitioners will need to collect about 61,000 signatures to get 
the item on the ballot, according to the state constitution. Boyer 
said the petition drive will probably begin in the next six months.

Maine has some competition to be the first state to legalize in the 
Northeast, as national advocates are also targeting Massachusetts for 
a potential referendum in 2016. State legislatures in Rhode Island 
and Vermont also could take up the issue next year. Outside the 
Northeast, national advocates are pushing for popular ballot 
initiatives in California, Arizona and Nevada.

Maine's ballot initiative will face significant opposition from some 
public and law enforcement officials, some of whom campaigned against 
legalization in its cities. Some medical marijuana advocates also 
have reservations, including Hillary Lister, director of the Medical 
Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, who said she fears large-scale 
investors could crowd smaller growers out of the market.

Roy McKinney, director of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, said the 
legalization vote in South Portland - where voters approved a measure 
to allow people age 21 and older to possess an ounce of marijuana - 
doesn't supersede state law. He said the agency's stance on the 
statewide ballot initiative would depend on how it was written, but 
he added that it opposed efforts to legalize marijuana via the state 

Approval on a statewide level won't sail through, as anti-marijuana 
forces are emboldened by a recent victory - a November legalization 
referendum's failure in Lewiston, the state's second-largest city.

Lewiston Mayor Bob Macdonald, who worked in the drug unit of 
Lewiston's police department before becoming mayor, called 
legalization a sign of "degeneration of society." He said he is glad 
the referendum to legalize marijuana in his city failed.

"I'm set in my ways and that's one thing I'm totally against - making 
any drugs legal," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom