YORK, Maine — Marijuana advocates will turn in the petitions necessary to overcome a Board of Selectmen vote and place a legalization referendum on the York ballot, supporters of the measure announced Tuesday.
The Marijuana Policy Project, which successfully campaigned for a legalization ordinance in Portland last fall, announced on Tuesday it would submit more than 900 signatures to York Town Hall on Wednesday afternoon.
Members of the group had turned in approximately 200 signatures in June, about double the amount necessary to put the legalization measure before the town’s Board of Selectmen, who then could have placed the referendum on the November ballot.
But last month, the board voted 3-2 against putting the question on the ballot, forcing marijuana legalization supporters to collect another 400-plus signatures to override the selectmen’s opposition.
In York, 641 signatures of registered town voters are necessary to put a referendum to a townwide vote without selectmen approval.
David Boyer, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said on Tuesday that York Selectman Robert Nowell, one of the two who voted to put the question on the ballot, will join his group for a 2 p.m. news conference on Wednesday to celebrate the submittal of petitions.
“Clearly, voters in York are interested in the prospect of adopting a more sensible marijuana policy,” said Boyer in a statement Tuesday. “People are fed up with laws that punish adults for using a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol. We look forward to continuing the discussion we began with voters during the petition drive.”
York Police Chief Douglas Bracy was among those to urge York selectmen to vote against putting the legalization measure on the ballot.
“It’s a huge problem in our society,” Bracy told selectmen at the time. “Every one of us knows someone who has been impacted by this. I have good friends and relatives who have been through rehab.”
Board Chairwoman Mary Andrews, one of three who voted against placing the question on the ballot, said supporting legalization would put her at odds with her oath to uphold state and federal laws, which still prohibit recreational use of the drug.
Boyer’s organization also is pursuing legalization ordinances in South Portland and Lewiston and has made it clear the municipal-level efforts are precursors to a statewide legalization push in 2016.
As is the case in Portland, the marijuana ordinances that petitioners are proposing in the other three communities would apply to adults over the age of 21 and would maintain prohibitions on public use or display of the drug.
Unlike in Portland, however, where the ordinance legalized possession of 2.5 ounces of pot, the petition drives in York, South Portland and Lewiston are seeking to legalize possession of one ounce.
Portland police and state prosecutors have maintained that, despite the local ordinance legalizing pot in Portland, they still are obligated to enforce state and federal laws outlawing the drug, leaving the referendum vote there largely as a ceremonial or advisory one.
Use of marijuana for medical purposes has been legal in Maine since 1999, with larger-scale dispensaries of medical marijuana legal since 2009. The measure in Portland, as well as those proposed in the other three municipalities, would nominally legalize possession and use of the drug recreationally.