PORTLAND, Maine — Maine Attorney General Janet Mills delivered a blow to marijuana legalization advocates Thursday, issuing a revised assessment that the bill would make it legal for children to possess up to 2.5 ounces of the drug.
A Maine attorney representing advocates of the measure, Question 1 on the November ballot, said her office is wrong and that Maine law already makes it illegal for people under 21 to use marijuana. Television station WCSH first reported Mills’ assessment of the question Thursday afternoon.
The October surprise for the Question 1 campaign came after Mills’ office completed an earlier analysis of the question that on Oct. 3 was published in the secretary of state’s voter guide, which did not explicitly address implications for children.
Mills was attending a meeting in Baxter State Park on Thursday and was unavailable to speak to the Bangor Daily News about that earlier analysis.
The new analysis echoed statements from Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson during a televised debate about the question and a radio interview with host Ray Richardson.
Spokesman Timothy Feeley provided notes Mills drafted on the new analysis, which states the bill repeals but does not replace state juvenile marijuana penalties.
In Mills’ notes, she wrote that the “the initiated bill purports to allow only people over 21 years of age to buy and consume marijuana, however it says nothing about people under the age of 21. Nothing in this bill makes it unlawful for a child to possess marijuana — there are no penalties.”
Scott Anderson, a Portland lawyer who has worked on Question 1, sharply disagreed.
“The attorney general is wrong. This measure makes marijuana legal for adults 21 and older, period,” Scott Anderson said in a prepared statement. “Maine law already makes it illegal for people under 21 to use marijuana, and this proposal doesn’t change that. In fact, it will protect kids far better than the current system does.”
Anderson added in a later statement that the question is clear and that the campaign “welcome[s] Maine voters to read the initiative to see if there is any ambiguity.
The revised analysis from Mills’ office depicts a domino effect in the referendum question that would repeal a section of state law, Title 22 section 2383, subsection 1. Mills wrote that the repeal takes the teeth out of a separate section of Maine law dealing with juvenile crimes, Title 15 3103, part B.
That section of the juvenile criminal code defines juvenile crimes for drug possession, including “possession of a useable amount of marijuana, as provided in Title 22, section 2383.”
“Repealing this provision of Title 22 makes it lawful for juveniles of any age to possess and consume a ‘usable amount of marijuana,'” Mills wrote.
The conclusions of the state’s top attorney and the prosecutor in Maine’s largest county could spell trouble for the Question 1 campaign, which has raised and spent millions to promote a promise of regulating marijuana like alcohol, which is illegal for people under 21 to possess.
The drug remains illegal for all ages under federal law, scheduled in the same category as heroin and LSD, but the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has not taken aggressive actions to enforce that ban in states that have legalized recreational marijuana or decriminalized possession of small amounts.
The city of Portland legalized possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana for people over 21 in December.
Stephanie Anderson, the Cumberland County district attorney, said during a televised debate that the claim that the bill makes marijuana possession legal for people over 21 is a “myth.”
“There’s a prohibition against [people under 21] from going into a pot shop and purchasing marijuana, but there’s no prohibition against using marijuana, so that is a myth,” she said.
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Mills added that in repealing that section, the referendum question also does not say what would happen to people ages 18, 19 or 20, with regard to marijuana possession.
“Presumably the current provisions of the Criminal Code would apply to this age group, making it a crime to furnish or sell marijuana of over a certain amount,” Mills wrote. “But, since the bill repeals the civil violation in Title 22, people in this age group could lawfully possess and use as much as 2.5 ounces of marijuana.”
Mills added that her updated notes on the proposal “does not point out every flaw. It does point out that it repeals the civil violation and leaves it at that.”
That title and section is referenced in 13 locations in Maine law, according to a search of state statutes.
The campaign advocating passage of Question 1 did not provide a point-by-point rebuttal of Mills’ new analysis late Thursday.
Read Mills’ analysis published in the Secretary of State’s voter guide below.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the publication date for the Secretary of State’s voter guide as Oct. 8. It was published Oct. 3.