It was a big night for the marijuana legalization movement around the country, with 3 of 5 states, including Massachusetts, approving ballot measures and Maine poised to follow suit.
The vote remained extremely close all night, but at about 3 a.m., supporters of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol declared victory.
The Yes on One campaign held an edge of between one and two percentage points all night long. And in the wee hours of the morning, with a few more precincts still to be counted, political director Alysia Melnick offered this assessment.
“Let’s see. It’s 2 in the morning and we’re up by a point with 85 percent reported. We’re trying to be really cautious but we’re still hopeful,” she said. “We’ve been up all night and we think we will win the day but we just want to be tempered in our response.”
But just an hour later the Bangor Daily News declared Yes on One the winner, and the campaign issued a written statement saying Maine voters approved it “because it represents a new, more sensible approach to marijuana policy.”
Question 1 allows recreational marijuana to be regulated, sold and taxed in Maine at the rate of 10 percent. It also allows adults 21 and over to possess up to 2.5 ounces and to grow plants for themselves. But it does not permit the use of pot in public, and cities and towns have the ability to ban retail stores if they choose.
“Many Mainers just don’t see this being part of the Maine brand and what they think of as Maine, and I think it’s just a different set of values and that’s why it was so close,” says Scott Gagnon, the campaign director for Mainers Protecting Our Youth and Communities, a coalition of law enforcement, health organizations and others that oppose Question 1.
Despite the fact that that out-of-state supporters outspent them more than 20-1, Gagnon says he’s proud of the campaign they ran.
“We did this the real Maine grassroots way. It was neighbor to neighbor, neighborhood to neighborhood. I think that was the advantage we had over the Yes campaign, is they didn’t really understand Maine as well as we do being Mainers, so I think that is what really made it this competitive, where we’re looking at a race that’s within a percentage point,” he says.
Recent polls by the Portland Press Herald showed support for the measure from Maine voters, although the margin tightened in the final stretch. Younger voters such as Harley Babine of Auburn are considered to have the most relaxed attitudes about pot. Babine says she’s not a regular user herself but she voted for it anyway.
“Because I think it’s everybody’s own right, like if they want to do it, I guess. You know what I mean? I don’t really find it as a bad thing. It’s not my personal. I don’t know. I don’t really like it, I guess, but I’m not going to say somebody else shouldn’t be able to smoke if they want,” she says.
But that doesn’t mean the Yes side had an easy time selling the idea that Maine, like Colorado, could see millions of dollars in tax revenue to be used to fund a range of programs.
For one thing, there was pushback from some patients and caregivers in Maine’s flourishing medical marijuana industry who view recreational use as a threat, something that could open the door to big business and jeopardize their livelihood.
And then there was the pronouncement by Maine’s attorney general that flawed wording of the statute would make pot legal for kids.
“We disagree. It says 21 and up, I don’t know, 25 times. I think it’s clear it’s for adults 21 and over,” says David Boyer, campaign director for Yes on One.
Boyer says the attorney general’s position just fuels what he calls “reefer madness.”
But the attorney general isn’t alone in her opposition to recreational marijuana. The LePage administration also objects to it, and supporters of Question 1 say if there’s any resistance to implementing the measure and establishing regulations, their battle for legalization could next move to a courtroom.