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Can One Signature Really Spark A Constitutional Crisis Over Legalization?

One signature on a petition has transformed marijuana legalization from a potential ballot question to a constitutional crisis in Maine - which was pegged as one of the states most likely to legalize in 2016.

On March 2, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMLA) announced that its 2016 ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana had been disqualified due to a technicality. To get on the ballot, CRMLA had to gather 61,123 signatures. Although the group turned in over 99,000 signatures, only 51,543 were considered valid by Secretary of State Matt Dunlap.

There are various reasons why nearly half of the signatures were disqualified. But the issue really boils down to just one signature. More than 17,000 endorsements were dismissed because the signature of one notary - Stavros Mendros - didn't match the signature that the state had on file.

Notaries have to sign on as witnesses in order to verify that the other names on the signatures are legit. If Mendros' penmanship hadn't been disputed, voters in the Pine Tree State would be set to decide the fate of marijuana in November.

Legalization group launches appeal

But they might still get a chance to vote on the issue. CRMLA has launched an appeal, calling the secretary of state's reasoning "unconstitutionally vague." Their attorney, Scott Anderson, also suggested that the secretary of state "believes that he has unlimited authority to make this determination himself."

"That cannot be the law," he told the court hearing the case.

However, the state is backing Dunlap in the dispute. Assistant Attorney General Phyllis Gardiner claims that the secretary of state acted on "competent evidence." And there may be reason to doubt the validity of Mendros' signature. In 2007, he was convicted on misdemeanor charges for not following notary procedures properly.

Maine Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy has to issue a ruling in the case by April 11. Stay tuned for further developments on this case.

h/t Bangor Daily News, Portland Press Herald, Leafly


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