A new group has emerged to push for a statewide marijuana legalization vote in 2016 that could compete with efforts already underway to approve recreational use of the drug in Maine.

Legalize Maine, a political action committee formed to advocate for legalization, plans to unveil a proposal on Wednesday that it calls a homegrown approach to legalize and regulate the drug in a way that best benefits Maine growers and the state economy. The group’s pitch also will include the legalization of marijuana social clubs so Mainers can enjoy the drug in a social setting and not just in the privacy of their homes as is required in other states.

The new group is supported by some medical marijuana caregivers, people who already grow limited amounts of the drug to sell to patients qualified to use it under existing law. More than 1,500 caregivers now make up a thriving cottage industry in Maine.

“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,” Legalize Maine president Paul McCarrier said Monday. “Mainers don’t need a group from Washington, D.C., to dictate what’s best for them.”

So far, the push for a 2016 statewide referendum has come from the Washington-based Marijuana Policy Project, which led efforts in Portland, South Portland and Lewiston to put legalization measures on local ballots.

Portland residents voted to legalize pot in 2013. Earlier this month, voters in South Portland approved a similar measure, but Lewiston rejected the proposal. The municipal-level legalization votes are seen as mostly symbolic because police departments have said they will continue to enforce the state law against non-medicinal possession.


The Marijuana Policy Project plans to start a petition drive in March to collect signatures to put its legalization proposal on the 2016 statewide ballot. The group plans to force votes in several other states around the country at the same time to build on what appears to be growing national momentum.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but Colorado and Washington state legalized the drug for recreational use in 2012. Earlier this month, Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., approved measures to legalize recreational pot.

McCarrier, who is a former leader of Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, said Legalize Maine also will push for a 2016 vote here. But, he said, the group’s plan is “radically different” from that of other legalization advocates because it emphasizes economic development, allows all Mainers to grow their own marijuana, and would permit “marijuana social clubs.”

Providing a setting other than private homes in which recreational marijuana could be consumed in controlled environments is unlike any other legalization plan approved or considered nationwide, McCarrier said. “Our plan will not only give a shot in the arm to Maine’s service industry, but will be a model for other states to allow responsible use of marijuana outside of a private residence,” he said.

And, McCarrier said, his group’s plan provides “a vehicle for a rural economic revival” in Maine.

“With our focus on the small marijuana farmer, we will prevent big tobacco and big pharmaceutical companies from coming into our state and attempting to take over this traditional agricultural market,” he said. It was not clear Monday how the proposal would limit outside corporate involvement.


McCarrier said the plan would give municipalities “significant” control over if and where marijuana facilities might be located within their borders and allow Maine adults the ability to grow their own marijuana.

Legalize Maine has the support of some medical marijuana caregivers, each of whom is allowed to grow the drug for as many as five patients. As of July 31, there were 1,533 registered caregivers serving 3,980 patients statewide.

Scott Gagnon, director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine, a group opposed to legalization, said he will listen as the plan is unveiled, but is already skeptical of some aspects of the proposal.

“On the one hand, it’s nice that even legalization advocates are admitting that the Marijuana Policy Project’s efforts to legalize is all about D.C. interests and big tobacco and big pharma coming in and taking over the marijuana market,” he said. “On the other hand, we would be very concerned about public marijuana use and marijuana coffee houses. Maine does not need public spaces where people are consuming marijuana.”

David Boyer, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said McCarrier’s announcement shows there is support building for making marijuana legal in Maine. He said ideally the two groups would work together.

“We’re definitely excited that people want this and are willing to work toward it,” he said.

McCarrier will unveil his draft proposal Wednesday morning in Augusta. He said he plans to seek input from leaders in law enforcement, substance abuse, economic development and the marijuana community.


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