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Pot Legalization Campaigns Join Forces on Merged Ballot Question Effort

Tom Porter
MPBN File Photo
David Boyer, of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol, at a news conference in Portland in June.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The campaigns behind two competing marijuana legalization initiatives have agreed to join forces and support a single question they hope to place on next year's fall ballot.

The proposal would allow Mainers to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and permit limited home cultivation. It would also allow stores to sell pot, which would be taxed at 10 percent.

Proponents say they will easily meet their January deadline to gather 61,000 signatures, but at least one group stands in opposition.

The relationship between the two groups — The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol and Legalize Maine — has ranged from at times uneasy to slightly hostile over the past several months as both groups circulated petitions throughout the state.

In the end, the Legalize Maine campaign prevailed, but it will be managed by David Boyer, who had headed the competing group.

"We think it makes sense for both of our campaigns and Maine as a whole to come together and join force and move forward together," Boyer said.

Boyer is now the chief spokesman for the campaign, a role relinquished by former Legalize Maine organizer Paul McCarrier, who says he fully supports the merger. Boyer says the group will now spearhead the single question effort that he says will go before the voters next year.

"So far we have about 40,000 signatures in and we're on track to make the ballot," Boyer says. "We will be at Election Day collecting signatures next week, so if anybody hasn't signed the petition or would like to, make sure you go vote and sign right afterward, we'll be there and we think this makes sense."

But some Mainers, such as Scott Gagnon of the Smart Approaches to Marijuana, say Boyer's proposal doesn't make sense. Gagnon says Legalize Maine is playing right into the hands of national tobacco industry, that he says will swoop in and take over marketing of marijuana in an approach that's solely about making money with little thought to education and responsible use.

"If we were to legalize marijuana we'd basically be creating a third industry — we would see basically Big Tobacco 2.0," Gagnon says.

Still, election watchers such as Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine, say the legalization effort will likely benefit from a single ballot question rather than two.

"A united effort on the part of both of these groups increases the chance of success rather than having two similar but distinct efforts that may split support," Brewer says, "and then depending on how gathering the signatures went, maybe alienating some folks, so I think that's also true."

Brewer says the larger turnout of younger voters expected to participate in next year's presidential election also bodes well for the marijuana initiative.