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Marijuana Reformers in Maine Unite Behind One Legalization Measure

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Activists supporting two marijuana legalization measures that had been competing to appear on Maine’s statewide ballot in 2016 have set aside their differences and agreed to work together behind one proposal.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, an effort of the well-funded national Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), and Legalize Maine, a scrappier group of local activists, had each collected about 40,000 of the 61,000 valid signatures needed to qualify an initiative for the ballot.

But on Monday the groups announced that the MPP-backed effort would stop collecting signatures for its measure and would instead put its resources behind Legalize Maine’s proposal.

“Joining forces is the best step forward, not only for our respective campaigns, but for Maine as a whole,” David Boyer of MPP said in a press release. “We can more effectively accomplish our shared goal by combining our resources and working together instead of on parallel tracks. We had some differences of opinion on some of the specifics, but our initiatives were largely similar overall.”

A side-by-side comparison (prepared by MPP) shows that while the two measures are indeed very similar, Legalize Maine’s approach — the one that both groups are now coalescing behind — is less restrictive, both on individual consumers and on the would-be-legal industry:

The local measure will allow Mainers to possess 2.5 ounces of marijuana, compared to one ounce. Whereas MPP’s initiative would have limited the number of retail licenses, Legalize Maine’s doesn’t. And while the MPP measure would have put the state’s Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages & Lottery Operations in charge of regulating the cannabis industry, Legalize Maine’s gives that authority to the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

The tax structure in MPP’s proposal would have generated about two and a half times more revenue for the state, according to Maine’s Office of Fiscal and Program Review.

While the groups’ new joint press release indicates friendly cooperation moving forward, things haven’t always been that way.

“It really all boils down to major philosophical differences,” Legalize Maine’s website said of the reason there were two competing ballot measures. “Our focus is on jobs and economic development. We believe the rationale for pages and pages of onerous rules and regulations are dubious at best… We suspect that the real reason is the smell of money. Big business wants to invest because they see massive profit potential. A diversified market of small to medium sized businesses would cost them potential profits. By their very nature they seek to control and monopolize this economic sector through their connections with government.”

It is unclear how the two formerly separate groups of activists will collectively make decisions as the campaign advances toward November 2016, but in an update to MPP’s e-mail list, Boyer said his group would “spearhead” the effort to convince voters to pass Legalize Maine’s initiative.

In any case, a united front means a greater chance of success next year, advocates say.

“It’s exciting to see so much enthusiasm in Maine for ending marijuana prohibition that there’s been two initiatives,” Diane Russell, a lawmaker who has repeatedly sponsored marijuana reform legislation in the state’s House of Representatives in recent years, told Marijuana.com. “However, Maine people deserve a clear choice in 2016 about whether voters want to continue 80 years of failed prohibition policy or to move forward with a system of taxation and regulation. With one initiative on the ballot, I believe Mainers will bring that vision to life I began nearly five years ago, and move Maine’s economy toward an exciting future.”

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