Pubdate: Tue, 18 Aug 2015
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2015 Bangor Daily News Inc.
Author: Francis Flisiuk


PORTLAND, Maine - The conflict between two groups seeking to place 
recreational marijuana legalization questions on the 2016 state 
ballot continues to deepen as signature-gatherers take to the streets.

After months of negotiations - which the leader of one of the groups 
characterized as a sham - failed to achieve a compromise, animosity 
between Legalize Maine and the Marijuana Policy Project made its way 
to the streets and storefronts of Portland, as the two organizations 
each work to gather more than 60,000 signatures required to place 
their questions on the November 2016 ballot.

Homegrown versus Washington

The president of Legalize Maine, Paul McCarrier said the Marijuana 
Policy Project and its local affiliate, Regulate Maine, are resorting 
to Washington-style political tactics that include spreading 
misinformation, vague threats and bad talking when interacting with his group.

"We were really hoping that they would work with us, adopt our 
language and be the heroes of this state by giving the locals the 
power," McCarrier said.

However, David Boyer, campaign manager for the Marijuana Policy 
Project, said he tried to work with Legalize Maine for six months but 
stopped negotiations after he believes McCarrier was trying to "trick" him.

"They would say that they wanted to work together one day and that 
they didn't the next," Boyer said. "There's really no point to be 
collecting two petitions for marijuana to be legal."

According to McCarrier, representatives of the two groups met in 
January for an intense series of negotiations, all of which ended 
with negotiators from the MPP walking away from the table and 
demanding Legalize Maine sacrifice its "core values" related to jobs 
and economic development.

But Boyer believes Legalize Maine's initiative simply is "poorly 
written" and its proposed legalization of up to 2.5 ounces of 
marijuana is too much, too soon.

"We're pushing to make 1 ounce legal because that's what everyone in 
the country is doing," Boyer said. "It's about 28 joints. Most people 
would consider that fair."

Another difference between the two is that Legalize Maine wants 
growers to have unlimited seedlings.

"It's probably not a good idea to put the word 'unlimited' in an 
initiative that legalizes a drug," Boyer said.

MPP has modeled its campaign and proposal after successful 
legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington. It is part of a 
national legalization strategy. Legalize Maine's is more closely 
aligned with Maine's existing medical marijuana community.

Compensation for signature-gatherers also represents a point of 
conflict for the two groups. Legalize Maine pays its canvassers $1.50 
per signature, according to McCarrier, who said MPP relies on paid 
representatives from outside Maine to do some of its signature gathering.

When asked about McCarrier's claim, Boyer declined to comment on how 
much his group pays canvassers, but said all of his group's signature 
gatherers are from Maine.

Who's in charge?

Both groups believe marijuana should be legal, but they differ on 
which state agency should regulate recreational use of marijuana.

The Marijuana Policy Project proposes the Bureau of Alcoholic 
Beverages and Lottery regulate recreational marijuana use. Legalize 
Maine believes oversight should rest with the Department of 
Agriculture Conservation and Forestry.

Boyer and McCarrier said this difference in policy is the main reason 
their groups can't work together.

"The most important thing to realize is that marijuana is an 
agricultural commodity," McCarrier said. "The MPP wants to employ a 
cookie-cutter model across the whole nation and that won't 
necessarily work for Maine."

Boyer at the MPP believes marijuana is more like beer and wine than 
milk and honey, and because Maine already has a system in place for 
regulating alcohol, transitioning to marijuana in a similar fashion 
would cost less taxpayer money.

"The program would just be set up faster," Boyer said. "They want to 
regulate marijuana like you would tomatoes."

According to McCarrier and the volunteers at Legalize Maine working 
to ensure more local control in setting the rules for legal 
recreational marijuana, the MPP's initiative doesn't protect farmers 
and local entrepreneurs and doesn't allow for municipalities to set 
the limits on the amount of retail stores. Legalize Maine offers a 
farm-to-table model that keeps the money in the pockets of Maine 
farmers, McCarrier said.

"The MPP's proposed licensing and application fee is exorbitantly 
high," McCarrier said. "Farmers that want to make money and get 
involved with this won't be able to pay the $30,000 cultivation fee."

Boyer said MPP's proposed startup costs are fair compared with liquor 
licenses across the nation and are small compared with the amount of 
money one eventually could make in the marijuana industry. It would 
cost $3,000 to apply for a cultivation license under the Marijuana 
Policy Project's plan, compared with $250 for Legalize Maine.

"Marijuana is a huge market, and our application fee is pretty fair," 
Boyer said. "We want to make sure people know what they are doing 
when they fill out this 50-page application."

The volunteers at Legalize Maine worry lack of local involvement and 
high price to get started would pave the way for big national 
corporations to suck up all the marijuana revenues, isolating Maine 
farmers. Boyer calls Legalize Maine claims he's campaigning with a 
big corporate Washington organization "laughable."

"I don't even like Washington that much," Boyer said. "We're based in 
Washington because that's where the lawmakers are, and we're trying 
to influence the people that make laws. We have a budget of a couple 
million [dollars], so we're small potatoes compared to other national 
single interest organizations."

According to Boyer, McCarrier and others at Legalize Maine have sown 
the seeds of distrust concerning the MPP, but in reality their 
initiatives are not significantly different.

"We're not going to bring the sky down," Boyer said. "I don't know 
how much more evil the guys that oversee alcohol can be over the guys 
in agriculture."

Public confusion

Despite the shared goal, the two legalization initiatives are causing 
some confusion on the streets and, at the very least, some 
uncomfortable situations for the group's signature-collectors.

"It's a shame that they can't just work together," Portland resident 
Beth Pool said. "I've signed both of them, thinking they were the same thing."

"The problem is that people are confused," said Brooke Leigh-Hayne, 
who was collecting signatures for Legalize Maine outside Portland's 
Reggae Fest on Aug. 7. "A lot of people I talk to think they've 
already signed for Legalize Maine, when they've signed for MPP. They 
just think they are signing up for free weed, but they don't realize 
the fine print."

According to Leigh-Hayne, the animosity between canvassers seemed to 
start with an article in the West End News by a coordinator from the 
MPP, which she described as "rude" and "biased."

"I do my best to just tell people the nuts and bolts of both 
campaigns," Leigh-Hayne said. "I don't down talk the MPP, because 
it's going to make us both look bad."

Angela Agganis, a volunteer for Legalize Maine, developed a 
signature-collecting strategy that involved trailing behind an MPP 
canvasser and saying, "Hey, do you want to sign a version of what you 
just signed that would also protect Maine farmers and business?"

According to Agganis, the MPP volunteer became visibly upset and told 
her that wasn't fair.

"She tried to interrupt me and talk over me very rudely," Agganis 
said. "And they are not explaining the differences of the campaign to 
people. If they did, people wouldn't agree to sign."

Sam Pelletier, a Maine native who has been collecting signatures for 
Regulate Maine, said he's experienced no animosity while out 
collecting signatures on the same street as Legalize Maine canvassers.

"Everyone I've worked with, or worked next to has been very polite," 
said Pelletier. "I think there's been confusion, but I make a point 
to talk about our differences. I'm happy to get into the details with anyone."

"Our volunteers can be a little emotionally invested in our 
campaign," Boyer said. "I've told our [couple of dozen] circulators 
to be polite to other canvassers."

Legalize Maine's homegrown pitch resonated with Jesse Semba, a 
Portland resident on his way to the Reggae Fest.

"When I lived in California, I've seen what the large corporate grows 
do," Semba said. "It's not about getting the product to the people; 
it's just an excuse for them to make money. The people that grow here 
actually care about Mainers."

Both initiatives could make it to the ballot, and voters could 
endorse both, which would lead to some messy legal implications that 
would have to be sorted out by the Legislature, courts or state regulators.

"When it comes down to the public, it's OK to vote for both," 
McCarrier said. "If you support legalization, then vote for both. But 
if you're concerned about the details, we want to talk about the 
plans and why ours is better."

On the street level, canvassers continue to disagree on what the 
potential future of legal marijuana in Maine would look like. In 
early August, each group said it had collected about 25,000 signatures.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom