The campaign that opposed a referendum seeking to legalize marijuana for recreational use in Maine abandoned its recount effort the afternoon of Saturday, Dec. 17, clearing the way for Maine to become the latest state to allow use of the drug for nonmedical purposes.
The citizen-initiated legalization effort appeared as Question 1 on the Nov. 8 ballot. Unofficial results showed the question winning by less than 1 percentage point, the closest contest on a ballot that included four other citizen-initiated referendums and a bond question.
That narrow margin prompted opponents of legalization – organized as Mainers Protecting Our Youth and Communities – to ask the secretary of state to conduct a statewide recount.
After a weekslong process that required ballots from all over the state to be collected and delivered to Augusta, the recount began earlier this month.
Ballot examination initially focused on precincts in the state’s larger cities, with a second phase of the recount zeroing in on other selected precincts. The recount recessed Friday, Dec. 16 with plans to resume in January.
However, Mainers Protecting Our Youth and Communities formally requested Saturday that the secretary of state’s office end the process.
“We promised folks that if we came to a point where we could not see any chance of reversing the result, we would not drag the process out,” Newell Augur, legal counsel for No on 1, said in a release. “We are satisfied that the count and the result are accurate.”
The No on 1 campaign said in its release that the vote margin had closed to less than 4,000. The secretary of state’s office had declined to discuss recount results while it was ongoing.
Preliminary estimates from Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap pegged the cost of a statewide ballot-question recount at approximately $500,000. However, the No on 1 campaign, in its release Saturday, suggested the estimated cost of the recount was much lower, roughly $15,000, with little or no overtime costs incurred by state police or the secretary of state’s office.
“Given the extraordinary close margin, the recount was a worthwhile and necessary endeavor,” Augur said. “Ultimately, this is how democracy works, and we were proud to be a part of it.”
The next step in the legalization process is for Gov. Paul LePage to send a proclamation to Dunlap affirming the validity of the election within 10 days after the secretary of state certifies the results. The Maine Constitution states that the law spelled out by the referendum would take effect 30 days after the governor issues that proclamation.
LePage, who opposed Question 1, said his administration would need roughly $5 million to create an infrastructure within the Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry to manage retail sales of marijuana for recreational use by people 21 and older. The governor recently told radio show hosts that he would prefer to have the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations oversee retail marijuana sales in Maine.
Members of the incoming Legislature also have suggested that they will examine the law to see if added safeguards are needed to ensure marijuana does not become available to people younger than 21.
The federal government continues to classify marijuana as a prohibited substance, which also could prove problematic if the administration of President-elect Donald Trump is more aggressive in enforcement than the Obama administration, which has avoided intervention in states’ legalization efforts.
Maine becomes the second New England state, after Massachusetts, to legalize marijuana use for recreational purposes. The state has allowed medical marijuana since 1999.