March 27, 2019
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Second group forms to push 2016 marijuana legalization referendum in Maine

AUGUSTA, Maine — A second group has formed with the intention of asking Maine voters to legalize recreational use of marijuana, raising questions about whether the two initiatives might spur the incoming Legislature to pre-empt them and write its own law to send to referendum.

Paul McCarrier, formerly the legislative liaison for Medical Marijuana Caregivers of M ain e, has long been a leading voice in Maine against prior legalization proposals that he said failed to reflect the best interests of the state and the existing medical marijuana community.

McCarrier said he will file paperwork with the Maine Ethics Commission on Tuesday to form the Legalize Maine Political Action Committee with the goal of collecting enough petition signatures to put the question to Maine voters in a 2016 statewide referendum. He said the difference between his initiative and a similar one by the Marijuana Policy Project is that his is “home-grown.”

“I’ve seen the benefits of the marijuana economy, both the medical and underground market, on Maine’s rural economy and it’s time to transition to a regulated, legal market,” said McCarrier in a written statement. “Mainers don’t need a group from Washington, D.C., to dictate what’s best for them. Our referendum will benefit the most Mainers, while having appropriate regulations for our state.”

David Boyer, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said his organization’s proposed legalization law isn’t drafted yet.

McCarrier said he will unveil a draft recreational marijuana policy document during a news conference Wednesday at the State House, which he hopes will spur a conversation among a range of stakeholders that will lead to the best possible law to present to voters in 2016. Though he has argued in the past that legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes would hurt Maine’s medical marijuana industry and the hundreds of jobs associated with it, McCarrier said he has never been against recreational legalization if it’s done right.

“I’ve always been very clear that I am not against legalization, but the devil’s in the details,” said McCarrier. “I’ve been against bad public policy.”

McCarrier said he resigned from his job as legislative liaison for the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, as well as from its board of directors, on Friday.

“I felt it was very important that the issues don’t get muddled,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that people in the medical marijuana community didn’t feel that I had some sort of conflict. It was a very tough decision.”

One major goal for McCarrier in his new role is to try to ensure that a recreational marijuana industry in Maine isn’t taken over by corporate interests in the tobacco and pharmaceutical sectors. He said he hopes the Legalize Maine PAC will attract major donors who can help fund the collection of some 80,000 petition signatures.

That would set up a conflict with the Marijuana Policy Project, a national organization that already has a strong pro-legalization presence in Maine. The group was the driving force behind the legalization of recreational marijuana in Portland in 2013 and South Portland earlier this month. A similar effort backed by the organization failed this month in Lewiston, 55 percent to 45 percent. The MPP has said for more than a year that it intends to collect signatures to place a legalization question on the 2016 state ballot.

Boyer said Tuesday he is intrigued by McCarrier’s proposal and will look for ways the two organizations can work together. He said the MPP is in the midst of developing its own proposed legalization law.

“Ideally, we want to work together,” Boyer said. “[The MPP] does have the resources to collect enough signatures to put a question on the ballot.”

Boyer and McCarrier said legalization of recreational pot in Maine and beyond is only a matter of time, but some disagree. Scott Gagnon of Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine said the close vote in South Portland and the rejection of a legalization ordinance in Lewiston earlier this year are indications that Mainers aren’t ready to legalize pot.

“At least in Maine, legalization doesn’t look inevitable at all,” Gagnon said. “I don’t think by any stretch that it’s a done deal here.”

Gagnon said his organization will remain engaged in the debate in the coming months, including another legalization bill expected from Democratic Rep. Diane Russell of Portland, who championed the cause in recent years.

Russell said the two petition drives prove what she’s been arguing for years: that if the Legislature doesn’t create a law that’s in the state’s best interests, marijuana advocates would draft their own and pass it through referendum.

“I believe that lawmakers should set a rational, responsible policy to tax and regulate marijuana, and then send it to referendum to let the people of Maine decide whether or not they wish to legalize it,” Russell wrote in response to questions from the BDN. “I will again introduce a bill to tax and regulate marijuana, but this is the very last session for lawmakers, law enforcement, substance abuse counselors and parents to come to the table and develop a responsible policy before the industry writes it. I remain hopeful that the Legislature and the governor will finally do the right thing.”

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