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Despite Hurdles, Maine Finally Legalizes

Jan 03, 2017 03:51PM ● By Randy Robinson

A pro-legalization sticker posted in Portland, Maine (photo by Justin Henry via Flickr)

Maine's legalization efforts proved to be an uphill battle from the start, but the Yes on 2 campaign officially announced its victory today after Gov. Paul LePage signed Question 2 into law. 

Maine's path to legalization started back in 2014, when two separate teams proposed two separate legalization bills. The first was a grassroots group, Legalize Maine, spearheaded by Paul T. McCarrier, a Maine native. The second was drafted by David Boyer of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), a pro-cannabis lobby responsible for cannabis law reforms in a number of states, including Colorado.

Initially, Boyer and McCarrier campaigned against one another. In 2015, after it became clear that neither side would gather enough signatures to place their bills on the November ballot, the two activists dropped their beef and joined forces–much to the dismay of local Maine natives, who perceived MPP's efforts as a big business takeover of what has been dubbed the best medical marijuana program in the United States.

Regardless of some Mainers' fears, MPP dropped their legalization initiative, which resembled similar initiatives in other states. Instead, MPP threw their full support behind Legalize Maine's bill, which gives established, local medical caregivers priority for recreational cannabis licenses over out-of-state business entities. Under Question 2, the state's Department of Agriculture will be responsible for assigning licenses and regulating the new industry.

However, the McCarrier-Boyer alliance was met with suspicion by Maine's medical marijuana community. The vitriol previously reserved for Boyer transferred to McCarrier shortly after the two announced joining forces, culminating in a 
heated public debate just prior to the Nov. 8 vote. A neck-in-neck race unfolded as the votes were tallied, with Question 2 winning by just 4,000 votes.

Initially, victory appeared shaky, as Gov. LePage threatened to veto Question 2; he even insinuated the 
state elections were riggedOpposition groups also questioned the validity of Question 2's win, and they requested a recount in late November. The recount attempt quickly became mired in inefficiency, as the No on 2 recount team was understaffed by nearly 40 percent. In December, the recount effort conceded. 

In the end, LePage's threat turned out to be just that–a mere threat–and he signed the bill into law on the morning of Jan. 3. Currently, a regulatory task force is forming to hammer out the details of a legal recreational pot market in Maine, expected to launch sometime this year. Regardless of Question 2's passage, a number of towns have already made moves to opt-out of recreational sales.

Maine joins eight other states and the District of Colombia in regards to approving recreational use of cannabis for adults 21 and over. It was one of five states to pass a major marijuana reform law in 2016.