Maine’s effort to legalize marijuana is now continuing forward.
Superior Court judge Justice Michaela Murphy has determined that state officials from the office of Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap improperly invalidated hundreds of thousands of signatures due to a handwriting discrepancy of a notary. Dunlap’s office has been ordered to go back and review the signatures again.
David Boyer, manager for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, said,
“We’re confident voters will be able to vote on this, on taxed marijuana. We’re pretty confident. We were confident when we submitted. We were confident when we submitted our appeal. We know they are good signatures.”
Justice Murphy wrote in her 26-page ruling,“While the state of Maine has a compelling interest to ensure that all petitions submitted for consideration in a direct initiative are valid, requiring a notary’s signature to appear identically on every petition is unreasonable and abridges the constitutional right to initiative. The state has presented no evidence, and the court is aware of none, correlating the variability of a notary’s signature with incidences of fraud in administering the circulator’s oath.”
Justice Murphy has placed the burden of proof on Dunlap’s office, explaining that a handwriting discrepancy does not equal fraud.
“The secretary of state did not determine that the notaries whose signatures varied from the signatures on their commissions did not properly administer the circulators’ oath. Instead, he claims he was unable to determine whether the notary signatures belonged to those notaries,”
From the beginning, the Secretary of State’s move to invalidate signatures was a fumbled message, with Spokeswoman Kristen Muszynski suggesting their office had made contact with the notary in question, followed by a contradicting statement by Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap indicating they had not.
Scott Gagnon, director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine, opposes cannabis legalization and is disappointed in the ruling. “It will open the door to elections fraud in Maine. We will be watching closely how this unfolds as it goes back to the secretary of state,” Gagnon said in a statement. “We will certainly be examining all options and strategies for the weeks and months ahead, and we will be prepared should this indeed find its way to the ballot in November.”
For now, David Boyer is looking forward to progress. “We’re definitely excited,” he said. “We’ve been in limbo for the last month.”
Arizona’s leading cannabis legalization campaign is close to securing the number of signatures needed for placement on the November 2016 ballot.
“Arizonans are clearly excited about this initiative,”
says Barrett Marson, the spokesman for The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.
The group must collect 150,642 valid signatures in order to place the measure on the 2016 ballot, and they are reportedly just a few thousand signatures away. Anticipating that some of the signatures gathered will be marked invalid, the group plans to gather 225,000 total signatures before turning them in to the office of the Secretary of State.
Opponents of legal cannabis have concerns about its effects on the community as well as children. A political action committee, The Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, has referenced a study by the United States Department of Health saying that Colorado has the highest past-month marijuana use since it became legal. It is unclear how this statistic pertains to the potential abuse or misuse of marijuana.
The proposed Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act mirrors Colorado’s retail system, which uses licensed business to produce and sell legal cannabis. Citizens 21 and over would be allowed to possess one ounce of cannabis and grow up to six plants in their home in a secure location. As the ballot campaign suggests, the penalties for driving under the influence, public intoxication and providing marijuana to minors would be similar to the penalties for alcohol. Local governments would also be allowed to ban cannabis retailers at their discretion.
The legislation would be enforced by a newly-formed Department of Marijuana Licenses and Control and funded by a 15 percent tax on all retail sales. Proceeds would also benefit public schools and teacher’s salaries (forty percent) as well as the Department of Health Services (twenty percent) for unspecified purposes.
Advocates are preparing measures for a number of 2016 state ballots that would legalize recreational marijuana in several states, including Massachusetts. Voters have already approved full legalization measures in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia.
In Massachusetts, the two prominent groups behind the proposals are the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMLA) and the Bay State Repeal. According to the groups, the measures move to recognize current public attitudes and practices regarding cannabis use. The initiatives are aimed at regulating the sale of cannabis in a similar manner to alcohol and at preventing its sale to minors.
If the state attorney general’s office judges the initiatives as constitutionally sound, advocates will begin the process of securing the 64,000-plus voter signatures needed to approve the measures.
The Marijuana Policy Project supports the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. CRMLA director Will Luzier reported:
“The primary objective of this initiative is to actually start controlling marijuana in Massachusetts. Marijuana should be produced and sold by legitimate, taxpaying businesses, not gangs and cartels.”
The 2016 ballot measures reflect the rapid change in American voter attitudes about the legalization of cannabis. A recent Suffolk University/Boston Herald survey found that 53 percent of Massachusetts voters currently support legalization, while 37 percent do not. The measures are likely to face resistance from several government officials. Among opponents to the initiatives are Boston Mayor Marty Walsh (D) and State Governor Charlie Baker (R).
The two groups are proposing separate measures. The Bay State Repeal does not advocate for an additional tax on marijuana, while CRMLA suggests a 3.75 percent excise tax and the option for localities to propose their own additional tax. CRMLA advocates as well for a new state regulating commission devoted to cannabis.
Hinting that proponents are better prepared for 2016 with lessons learned from previous defeats, like California in 2010, executive director of marijuana-advocacy group NORML, Allen St. Pierre, stated:
“What we learned was we hadn’t incentivized this enough for middle class citizens to buy into it.”
Voters in Maine, Ohio, Michigan, Arizona, Nevada and California are all likely to address measures on their 2016 state ballots such as the initiatives being proposed in Massachusetts.