LEWISTON, Maine — Advocates for Maine’s medical marijuana caregiver industry said Tuesday they oppose a trio of ballot questions going before voters this fall in Lewiston, South Portland and York, seeking to make recreational marijuana use legal for adults under city ordinance.
On Tuesday, Paul McCarrier, the legislative liaison for Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, said the group isn’t necessarily opposed to legalizing marijuana for recreational use but cautioned that the organizers of the petition drives, who put the question before voters, don’t have the best interests of the state in mind.
McCarrier called the petition drives and upcoming votes “media stunts.”
The ordinances would have little legal impact, as state and federal laws making recreational marijuana use illegal would supersede them, but advocates for legalization said the votes are important and will show that Mainers support legalization.
The Lewiston City Council is expected to vote on Sept. 2 whether to adopt the ordinance change or put the question to city voters in November.
The ordinances as drafted would allow adults older than 21 years old to possess up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana. Selling, growing and distributing marijuana would still be illegal under city law.
McCarrier said the Maine Marijuana Policy Project, which advanced the votes in Portland and now South Portland, Lewiston and York, largely are agents of out-of-state interests looking to push the state’s medical growers out of business.
McCarrier estimates that the 1,500 registered medical marijuana caregivers in Maine employ about 2,300 people. McCarrier said legalizing marijuana in Maine under the Marijuana Policy Project’s plan would amount to a “Wall Street corporate give-away.”
“We are trying to protect rural Maine jobs,” McCarrier said.
He said corporations outside of Maine ultimately would take over the state’s marijuana industry, forcing medical patients to buy their marijuana for higher prices and pay taxes on it.
“I support recreational marijuana, but the devil is in the details,” McCarrier said. “We need a law by Mainers, for Mainers and (to) keep the money here.”
David Boyer, political director for the Maine Marijuana Policy Project, said his group intends to include the medical marijuana community, including caregivers at the table when they craft a statewide ballot initiative for 2016.
He said there is no intention of running the marijuana caregivers out of business and said McCarrier’s criticism was misplaced.
“These are campaigns to educate the public on ending marijuana prohibition,” Boyer said. “I think Paul would agree that marijuana is safer than alcohol.”
Members of Boyer’s group have also said they hope if enough Maine cities pass legalization ordinances, the state’s Legislature will legalize recreational marijuana in Maine so they don’t need to put the issue to voters statewide.
Maine lawmakers largely have steered away from the issue. A bill in the House of Representatives last session, which would have put the issue before the voters, fell just four votes short of passing.
McCarrier and Boyer pointed to recent events in Colorado, which passed a statewide legalization ballot measure in 2013, as proof their side is correct. McCarrier said efforts are being made in Colorado to push more patients to purchase marijuana from recreational sellers so they will need to pay taxes on it.
McCarrier said tax revenue from the legal sale of marijuana has fallen short of projections, and the state is scrambling to cover its losses.
He said projections on sales tax revenue from the legal sale of marijuana in Maine would also be a set of “empty promises.”
Boyer said Colorado was working through a process of refining its laws around marijuana, which would be expected with any citizen-initiated bill.
He said his group hoped to make any bill or ballot initiative in Maine, “well-worded and well-crafted.”
Boyer said he intended the process of legalizing marijuana in Maine to be inclusive and open.
“When we get to drafting the initiative, we want them at the table, from those concerned about substance abuse to the medical caregiver community,” he said. “Everyone who wants to have a hand in crafting this new law we will have them at the table.”