By now, you’ve likely heard of the lawsuit regarding the disqualified signatures on petitions in support of a referendum to legalize marijuana for recreational use in the state. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap disqualified over 17,000 signatures due to inconsistencies with the signature of one of the notaries on the petitions—a “handwriting technicality” as it has been called. According to Dunlap, the signature is not a match with the one on file, and thus the petitions are disqualified.
Conversely, marijuana legalization opponents are calling for an investigation into the signature-collecting process, noting that it’s very strange for nearly half of the signatures on the petitions to be disqualified.
Clearly, the issue is one that Mainers feel quite strongly about it—on both sides—and people should at least be allowed to vote on the issue. That’s how the political system should work, and 17,000+ people shouldn’t be effectively disenfranchised.
While I have no idea whether or not a vote to legalize marijuana would actually pass in the state—the cities of South Portland and Portland have both voted in favor of doing so, but a similar vote failed in Auburn—it’s important to be honest about the drug, which is something that both sides have failed at in recent months. It’s a fact that marijuana’s legalization for recreational use has not turned Alaska, Colorado, Washington, or Oregon into lawless hellholes (in fact, Colorado has seen its lowest highway fatality rate in decades), and even some one-time opponents of legalization in those states have admitted that they were wrong and that they’ve changed their minds.
Personally, I think relaxed regulations on marijuana (including legalization) would be a good thing for Maine. In Colorado, nearly half of all visitors during the summer of 2015 came to the state because marijuana had been legalized. While only a small percentage of tourists actually went to a dispensary, clearly the law hasn’t dampened Colorado’s reputation as a vacation destination—and there’s no real reason to think that legalizing marijuana in Maine would harm the state’s reputation either. Maine’s tourism industry, especially in light of the Canadian dollar’s plummeting value, needs all the help it can get.
Additionally, there’s always the tax revenue that the legal marijuana industry (e.g. growth, sales, edibles, and smoking paraphernalia) would bring into the state—but, obviously, there’s no guaranteed amount. Still, some kind of potential revenue is obviously better than no revenue at all, and this is a chance for Maine to be a pioneering state in this half of the country.
I think that both those in favor of marijuana legalization and those opposed to legalization have a legitimate beef with Maine’s secretary of state. If the signatures are legitimate, they should be treated as such—regardless of a possible “handwriting technicality.” Without the issue on the ballot, there will be no opportunity for real, honest debate regarding the pros and cons of legalizing marijuana, and there will be no chance of a platform for either side to educate the public and change minds on the issue. That’s not a positive thing for the state. Let’s hope that this mess can be sorted out, and relatively quickly.