Boxes of petition signatures for a Maine marijuana legalization initiative are delivered to state officials on Feb. 1, 2016 as protesters wave signs in Augusta, Maine. (Tom Bell, The Associated Press)

Maine marijuana legalization campaign reeling after state rejection

AUGUSTA, Maine — Supporters of a voter initiative to legalize marijuana in Maine have failed to collect enough valid signatures to qualify for the state ballot.

Petition gatherers for the marijuana initiative delivered 51,543 valid signatures — about 9,500 signatures below the threshold, the Maine Secretary of State office reported Wednesday. The office found 47,686 invalid signatures.

Wednesday was the deadline for the Secretary of State office to validate signatures. The failure of the marijuana initiative was the biggest surprise of the day, as a casino proposal was denied and a school funding measure was approved. The marijuana campaign on Feb. 1 had delivered more than 99,000 signatures.

David Boyer, manager of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, said documents provided by the Secretary of State’s office indicate that more than 17,000 signatures from a single notary were invalidated because the notary’s signature did match the signatures on file.

“We will look at all the options to challenge this,” he said. “We don’t want 17,000 people to be disenfranchised because of a handwriting technicality.”

A supporter, Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, said the group will appeal because people deserve the chance to vote on the issue.

“This is about voting rights at its fundamental core, not legalization,” she said.

The campaign now has 10 days to appeal.