YORK, Maine — Despite petitioners gathering enough signatures to get the question on the ballot without Board of Selectmen approval, York selectmen on Monday voted 3-2 against placing an ordinance legalizing marijuana before voters in November.
Chairwoman Mary Andrews said she expected the question to go to voters despite Monday’s vote, as proponents could get the petition notarized to be placed on the Nov. 4 ballot.
David Boyer, the Maine director of the Marijuana Policy Project, the national organization behind the petition, said after the meeting he expected to go that route.
“It’s disgusting that the Board of Selectmen would disenfranchise nearly 1,000 voters who wanted [this],” Boyer said.
Of the 900 signatures on the petition, Town Clerk Mary-Anne Szeniawski verified 767 as belonging to registered York voters, according to selectmen.
Town officials in Lewiston and South Portland have placed the question on their ballots for November, according to Boyer. Voters in Portland passed a referendum legalizing possession of small amounts of the drug last November.
Andrews and Selectmen Robert Palmer and Jon Speers said they voted against the proposed ordinance because the Town of York Home Rule Charter prohibited them from putting forward anything other than a “lawful ordinance.”
“Like it or not, the charter is the rule by which we operate here,” Andrews said.
South Portland and Lewiston “did not have our charter to deal with,” she said.
Marijuana possession is also against state and federal law, Andrews said, which she took an oath to uphold.
Selectmen Ron Nowell and Torbert Macdonald both said state and federal law allows citizens to petition.
Nowell said, “It is amazing you three people are using the argument our charter takes precedent over state or federal [law].”
Macdonald said the U.S. Constitution says the legal right to petition government “shall not be impinged.”
Nowell said a petition to allow the sale of alcohol in town beyond beer and wine got on the York ballot by petition though those sales were previously illegal in York.
“I believe in the people’s right to petition and the people’s right to vote,” said Nowell, who attended a press conference where Boyer and resident Victoria Simon presented the petition to the town clerk on Aug. 27.
Speers said, “Right now, whether it’s right or wrong, it is illegal to possess marijuana in the state. Our charter, whether you think it’s garbage or not worth the paper it’s printed on, we’re still pledged to uphold.”
Palmer said he would not support the petition because, “We don’t have the ability to regulate it at the local level.”
Several residents spoke for and against allowing the question to go on the ballot.
Sally Manninen, substance abuse prevention coordinator at York Hospital, said the law has caused increased traffic fatalities and drug-related problems in Colorado and Washington state, where pot is legal.
State Rep. Windol Weaver, R-Maine, said, “I don’t like people from away telling us what to do in our town.”
Jim Bartlett, a former selectman, said, “This did not spring from the people of York or South Portland or Lewiston.”
Nowell countered that plenty of local people signed the petition.
“Just get it on the ballot and let the voters of York decide,” said one of those residents, Sherry DaBiere.
The petition was submitted by Citizens for a Safer Maine, an offshoot coalition of the Marijuana Policy Project. In July, the group submitted more than 100 signatures to selectmen for the board to place the question on the ballot. By the same 3-2 vote on July 28, selectmen decided against putting the measure before voters.
Petitioners then had to come up with 641 signatures to bypass selectmen approval.
The initiative asks that the private possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana be legal in York for adults age 21 and older. It would remain illegal to consume or display marijuana in public. The measure also includes a statement in support of regulating and taxing marijuana as alcohol is taxed, according to Boyer.
The Marijuana Policy Project is gearing up for a statewide referendum question on the legalization of pot in 2016, according to Boyer.