Maine began marijuana policy reform nearly four decades ago when it decriminalized simple possession. It continued 15 years ago, becoming the first medical marijuana state in New England. Advocates believe voters will legalize retail marijuana and are working on 2016 ballot initiatives, but they disagree on how to do it.

Paul McCarrier registered a political action committee on Nov. 18 to legalize marijuana in 2016. The following day, he announced his plans as president of Legalize Maine. His liberal, anti-corporate goals sometimes sharply contrastMarijuana Policy Project plans to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol. MPP, which is headquartered in Washington, D.C., had success passing that model in two of Maine’s largest cities, but McCarrier thinks it’s the wrong approach.

“Marijuana is a unique subject matter,” McCarrier said during a recent phone interview. He thinks generations of prohibition and a strong underground market make it unlike alcohol, so it should not be regulated the same.

Before either camp has a chance, however, they need to get their draft on the ballot.

Maine requires a petition with around 61,000 valid signatures for 2016 initiatives. While volunteers collect some of these, professional campaigns often hire specialized businesses to help. The inevitability of invalidated signatures means groups need to collect much more than the minimum number.

“We’re probably going to need anywhere between ninety and a hundred thousand signatures this coming year,” MPP’s Maine Political Director, David Boyer, said by phone.

Campaign costs add up quick. Boyer says MPP expects to spend a minimum of $100,000 on legalization and Legalize Maine’s budget is $300,000. Both declined to provide funding numbers, but campaign finance reports indicate they are starting from scratch. Recent confirmation of support by voters, however, has created headlines nationally and made Maine a prime target.

Voters in Maine’s largest city, Portland, approved a 2013 initiative legalizing marijuana with over 67 percent support. Similar initiatives made ballots in Lewiston and South Portland for 2014. In November, South Portland voters approved while Lewiston denied legalization. Despite the narrow loss in Lewiston, the overall numbers look good.

Between the three initiatives, 40,854 voters made their decision about legalized marijuana. Fifty-six percent officially approved, providing a statistic far more accurate than an opinion poll. Getting signatures just from those who already voted in favor would provide over a third of those needed.

The campaigns are still writing the official text for their initiatives, but they did share some information.

Legalize Maine’s plan would allow possession of up to two and a half ounces and the ability to grow up to six  mature and 12 immature plants. The measure would create legal framework for marijuana social clubs and would tax the plant at 8 percent.

Boyer conceded MPP’s initiative will likely resemble Amendment 64 in Colorado. He says that their plan will not affect the state’s medical marijuana system and will give current providers priority in the retail industry.

“They have the experience,” Boyer said, “they’ll need to meet the demand at time of launch.”

Washington State reported major shortages when it began retail marijuana sales in July. Advocates point to the state not taking advantage of its existing medical marijuana industry, something Amendment 64 covered. Boyer says MPP’s successes in Colorado and Alaska are an asset.

“We have the experience and expertise to craft a good initiative and make sure it passes.”

Legalize Maine received some unlikely support against national interests from Scott Gagnon of SAM Maine, a group that opposes legalization.

Gagnon responded to McCarrier’s plans in a statement saying that while he is concerned about legalization’s impact on youth, public health and the economy, he agrees it’s not in Maine’s best interest to “turn over its drug policy to a D.C.-based special interest group.”

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