A jar containing the strain Killer D is on display at a medical marijuana facility in Unity, Maine on April 22, 2016 . (Robert F. Bukaty, Associated Press)

It’s official: Maine will decide on marijuana legalization in 2016

Citizen initiative clears signature review; the measure would legalize adult use and possession of up to 2.5 ounces, along with regulating and taxing cannabis

PORTLAND, Maine — A referendum proposal to legalize marijuana for recreational use in Maine has met the threshold to appear on the November ballot, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said Wednesday.

The announcement means the citizen initiative will be forwarded Friday to state lawmakers, who can either enact it now or put it before voters in the fall.

David Boyer from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol said he looks forward to educating Maine voters as to why ending marijuana prohibition makes sense.

“We think that regulation and controlling marijuana and putting it behind the counter is a far better approach than giving drug dealers a monopoly,” Boyer said.

Scott Gagnon, who opposes marijuana legalization, said the effort would make Maine “the weed basket of the East” and bring along with it a variety of societal ills.

“We are confident that when Mainers see the full story of marijuana and what it would mean to have pot dispensaries in their community, they will rise up to reject the marijuana industry agenda, to protect the health of their communities and the futures of their children,” he said.

The measure would legalize marijuana for recreational use for adults 21 and older, allowing them to possess up to 2.5 ounces. It also would regulate and tax marijuana. Maine already legalized marijuana for medical use in 1999.

Earlier Wednesday, Maine’s chief justice removed a legal hurdle to allow the review of referendum petitions to resume.

Election officials certified an additional 11,305 signatures, enough to surpass the necessary 61,123 signatures of registered voters, Dunlap said. There was no need to continue the process since the legal threshold had been cleared, he said.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol originally submitted 99,229 signatures on Feb. 1, but only 51,543 of the signatures were deemed to be valid.

A review was ordered after a judge set aside Dunlap’s decision to reject thousands of signatures because the notary’s signature didn’t match the signature on file in Augusta.

The review resumed Wednesday after Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Leigh Saufley denied an individual’s request to intervene that had stalled the process.

Dunlap said Wednesday that seven circulators whose petitions containing 11,305 signatures were originally invalidated have sworn under oath that they signed their petitions in front of notary Stavros Mendros.

Maine will be one of several states considering marijuana legalization proposals. Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., already have made recreational use of marijuana legal for adults.

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Follow David Sharp on Twitter: @David_Sharp_AP.

maine marijuana legalization petition review
These images from documents provided March 30, 2016, by the Maine Secretary of State’s office shows the signature that Stavros Mendros used in his 2011 notary public commission application to the Maine Office of Secretary of State, top, and his signature that appears on one of the petitions in 2015 calling for a state-wide vote to legalize marijuana, below. Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap had rejected 5,000 petitions submitted on Feb. 1 containing more than 26,000 signatures, saying the signature of the notary on the petitions did not match the signature on file. On April 8, Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy reversed the decision, ruling it was “unreasonable” for the state to require that the notary’s signature must be identical. (Maine Secretary of State’s office, via AP)