Legalization activists received an early Christmas present last weekend: recreational marijuana legalization in the Pine Tree State is finally on track after a lengthy battle over election results.
On November 8th, residents approved a recreational marijuana ballot initiative by a narrow margin. So narrow that the opposition campaign called for a recount that halted the process of reforming the state's marijuana laws. On Sunday, those opponents conceded the issue. That means Maine is officially the eighth state to legalize adult cannabis use - after Colorado, Washington state, Oregon, Alaska, California, Massachusetts and Nevada.
And if the secretary of state to certifies the official results quickly, residents could have the right to possess, consume and cultivate cannabis at home by the end of January 2017 - only one month after the original plan to put the first phase of legalization in place by mid-December. So residents won't have a green Christmas, but cannabis Valentine's Day gifts could become a thing. It will likely take another year before licensed cultivation sites, retail outlets and cannabis social clubs are up and running.
But those timelines depend on how co-operative the state government is with the new regulations. During the 2016 campaign, Governor Paul LePage campaigned against the initiative last fall. And now that his side lost, he is suggesting that ballot questions are only "recommendations" and that "the legislature doesn't even have to enact" them.
And that has activists like David Boyer - the ballot question's campaign manager - crying foul. "During the 2014 debates, Governor LePage said that if the people of Maine voted on legalization, then he would support it," Boywer told Civilized. "We expect the Governor to stick to his word, follow the will of the voters and implement Question 1."
So we could see another cannabis standoff between activists and the state.
Misinformation Led to Slim Victory
Governor LePage could point to the ballot question's slim victory as proof that a significant numbers of Maine residents aren't onboard with legalization. But Boyer argues that the narrow win was the result of misinformation rather than reservations about marijuana.
"There was also a lot of misinformation circulating," he told Civilized. "People who generally think marijuana should be legal were affected by it.Maine's a smaller state, so misinformation gets around faster."
Those misconceptions about legalization included rumors that big corporations would take over the industry and meddle with the state's medical marijuana program, which has been in place since 1999. So Boyer's team had to work extra hard to set the record straight during the election.
"In the last three weeks, we made a strong effort to combat some of those myths, saying that it's not true that the ballot initiative would change the medical marijuana program. And that there would be a cap on how large a cultivator can be. And that we reserved 40 percent of the market for smaller growers."
He added that the aging population of Maine was another unexpected obstacle for activists. "Maine is one of the oldest states in the country, and older people don't support marijuana legalization as much as younger people, so that plays into things."
A New England Role Model
Despite those problems, Boyer thinks that the Pine Tree State will be a good role model for other small American districts -- especially in New England.
"I think Maine can show New England and the East Coast how we can responsibly regulate marijuana," he said. "We've been doing so with medical marijuana since 1999. And with decriminalization since 1976. So I think we can continue to be a model by hopefully getting our program up and running smoothly and quickly. We're a small state so we can afford to be a little bit more nimble because it's not as big of an undertaking as California."
And he thinks that Maine could sow the seeds of legalization in neighboring states.
"You can drive from one side of New England to the other in a couple hours," he explained. "New England's pretty dense, so people are going to see their neighbors bringing in a lot of tax revenue and using their police resources smarter. And they might realize it's a good idea and they should get onboard sooner than later."
Banner image: Maine Department of Education / Flickr.com