This week Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said a marijuana legalization initiative that was expected to be on the ballot in November did not qualify, falling 9,580 signatures short of the 61,123 it needed. The initiative's backers plan to appeal Dunlap's decision.
Last month the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which backs the initiative, submitted about 100,000 signatures. It says more than 17,000 were disqualified because Dunlap's office determined that the signature of a notary public did not match the one on file with the state. Petitition circulators must submit a notarized statement saying they personally witnessed the signatures they collected.
"We are very disappointed by the Secretary of State's determination," the campaign said. "Based on documents they have provided, it appears that more than 17,000 valid signatures from registered Maine voters were excluded from the count because the signature of a single notary—whose notary commission has not expired—did not exactly match the signature the state has on file for that notary. We are exploring all legal means available to appeal this determination, and we sincerely hope that 17,000-plus Maine citizens will not be disenfranchised due to a handwriting technicality."
David Boyer, the campaign's manager, told the Portland Press Herald the secretary of state's office is being overzealous. "For them to throw out every signature from this notary doesn't make sense to us," he said. "The signature on file and the ones on the petition look close. We're going to fight for these signatures."
Meanwhile, the anti-pot group SAM Maine is urging an investigation of the irregularities that led Dunlap to reject 48 percent of the signatures submitted by the legalization campaign. "With out-of-state organizations like the Marijuana Policy Project coming into our state trying to influence and change our laws," SAM Maine Director Scott Gagnon told the Press Herald, "it is paramount that these operations are held accountable if they violate ethics regulations." The Marijuana Policy Project is backing the Maine campaign along with legalization initiatives in four other states this year.
Kevin Sabet, SAM's national president, welcomed the signature snafu. "This represents a victory for public health over industry profits," he said. "Despite pouring money into Maine, it appears that the pot industry was unable to get enough real people to sign their petition. The fact that almost a full 50 percent of the signatures were invalidated casts a cloud over the entire legalization movement in the state."
In 2013 Public Policy Polling found that 48 percent of Maine voters supported legalization, while 39 percent were opposed and the rest were undecided. It seems likely that support is higher now. The latest Gallup poll found that 58 percent of Americans think marijuana should be legal.