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Maine Judge Reverses State Decision to Keep Marijuana Legalization Off Ballot

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The effort to legalize marijuana in Maine appears to be back from the dead.

On Friday, a judge reversed Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap’s decision to invalidate thousands of signatures needed to qualify a legalization initiative for the November ballot.

Last month Dunlap threw out a large batch of voter signatures because, he said, the signatures of a single notary on the petitions did not match the one on file with the state.

As a result, the cannabis initiative did not have enough valid signatures to meet the threshold of 61,123 needed to qualify.

Advocates behind the initiative sued, asking the courts to overturn the decision.

Justice Michaela Murphy agreed, ruling that state officials did not actually review every petition in question.

The requirement that a notary’s signature on petitions must exactly match the one on file is “vague, subjective, and unduly burdens this unique and fundamental right” for citizens to petition, Murphy wrote. “While the State of Maine has a compelling interest to ensure that all petitions submitted for consideration in a direct initiative are valid, requiring a Notary’s signature to appear identically on every petition signed is unreasonable and abridges the Constitutional right to initiative.”

The judge ruled that the Secretary of State’s office must now go back and review the disputed petitions. If it is found that enough signatures on those petitions are valid, Mainers will join voters in as many as four or five other states in getting a chance to end marijuana prohibition this November.

“We are extremely pleased with the court’s decision to send our initiative back to the secretary of state for re-review,” David Boyer, campaign manager for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, said in a press release. “As was the case when we submitted our signatures to the secretary of state originally, we know that a sufficient number of registered voters signed the petition to qualify for the ballot. So this re-review should now be a mere formality. Once the Secretary of State’s Office has completed its work, we look forward to launching the formal part of our campaign and educating Maine voters about the benefits of regulating marijuana like alcohol.”

Kristen Schulze Muszynski, a spokesman for Dunlap, told Marijuana.com in an email that her office is reviewing its options, including the possibility of appealing Murhpy’s ruling to a higher court.

“The decision is under review right now, however, and I don’t think we’ll have a statement today on how we will be proceeding,” she said.

If the measure qualifies for the ballot and is approved by voters, it will allow adults over 21 years of age to possess up to two and a half ounces of marijuana and grow up to six flowering plants and 12 immature plants. The state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry will regulate the newly legal cannabis industry, and the measure will impose a 10% tax on retail sales. Cities and towns will have the right to prohibit marijuana businesses.

A poll last spring found that 65 percent of likely Maine voters support legalizing marijuana.

If the measure qualifies following the Secretary of State’s re-review, Maine will be the second state to officially qualify a legalization initiative for this year’s ballot, after Nevada.

Florida officials have also certified a medical cannabis amendment. It is expected that advocates will soon secure full legalization initiatives in Arizona, California and Massachusetts, while medical marijuana seems likely to qualify in Ohio. Local activists are also pushing a full legalization initiative in Michigan and medical cannabis ones in Arkansas and Missouri, but those efforts have not to date secured major funding from national organizations with track records of qualifying ballot measures.

Elsewhere in New England, lawmakers in Vermont and Rhode Island are considering legislation to end marijuana prohibition. Vermont could be the first state to enact legalization through the state legislature instead of via a ballot initiative. The state’s Senate in February approved a bill to legalize, tax and regulate cannabis, but it has encountered roadblocks in the House of Representatives. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) has pledged to sign a legalization bill into law if it reaches his desk.

Read the full ruling on Maine’s marijuana petition signatures below.

Photo courtesy of Allie Beckett.

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