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Politics

Maine Group Launches Statewide Campaign to Legalize Marijuana

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AUGUSTA, Maine - The former spokesman for the Maine Medical Caregivers Association is launching a statewide campaign to legalize recreational marijuana in 2016. But Paul T. McCarrier's new group expects to face some competition from the Washington D.C,.-based Marijuana Policy Project, which has backed legalization efforts in other states.

 

McCarrier's group, called "Legalize Maine," is also hoping to capitalize on homegrown appeal for the benefit of marijuana growers, users and Maine's rural economy. "Our plan will be a plan for Mainers, by Mainers, that will keep the money in this state," he said, flanked by several dozen supporters at a State House news conference.

McCarrier said the initial plan would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to 2.5 ounces of prepared marijuana, allow adults to cultivate up to six flowering marijuana plants, 12 immature plants and an unlimited number of seedlings.

It also allows for the creation of marijuana social clubs. Municipalities would have the power to prohibit the clubs, and could also place local bans on retail storefronts and cultivation facilities. And McCarrier says marijuana would be taxed the same as prepared food and liquor at a rate of 8 percent.

"If the tax is high, like it is in Colorado and Washington, all you will see is an underground black market," he said. "We want to make sure that the legitimate business people in the state of Maine who are involved in marijuana are not going to be at a handicap when dealing with marijuana being imported into this state from organized crime."

McCarrier says he has no intention of hurting medical marijuana patients for whom he's advocated for the past four years. He plans to work with the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine and other medical marijuana interests to ensure that they're on board.

"It's interesting. I'm glad to see an outline. I'd like to see a little bit more detail," says Catherine Lewis, the education director for the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, which represents several hundred patient caregivers and has not taken a position on the measure. Lewis says she thinks it's possible to legalize recreational marijuana without compromising Maine's medical marijuana program, but it will take some consideration.

"I think that there is a way to make it co-exist as long as we limit the size of the legalization grows," Lewis says. "I think that it needs to follow the caregiver model in a smaller stance so that it can be sustainable long-term for all people in Maine."

David Boyer of the Marijuana Policy Project also thinks the two efforts can co-exist - and maybe even merge. His group also aims to gather enough voter signatures to put a measure to legalize and tax marijuana on the 2016 statewide ballot. Details of the measure have not yet been drafted.

"We see a lot of things eye-to-eye with Paul and his plan," he says, "and we have the resources to collect the signatures to put it on the ballot. You know, we won campaigns last year and this year. We've won across the country in Colorado and Alaska, and we'll do it again here in Maine in 2016."

McCarrier is less conciliatory. "We are not interested in being subjugated to MPP or the Washington D.C. policy," he says. "These will be competing measures and we will win."

The Marijuana Policy Project has also backed separate legalization efforts in Portland, South Portland and Lewiston. Only Lewiston's was unsuccessful. Scott Gagnon, of the group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, says while he appreciates the homegrown legalization effort more than a "marijuana-industry funded approach from D.C." he remains concerned about the risks for youth, public health, and the economy.

"They talk about the economy: One of the things we need to keep in the conversation is the enormous amount of costs substance abuse has on our economy," he says, "so we'll continue to address that."

Gagnon says many voters remain wary of legalization, as evidenced by the decisive defeat in Lewiston. And he thinks the possibility of two competing legalization questions on a statewide ballot would likely confuse voters and bolster the opposition.