A campaign to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana in Maine did not qualify to reach voters in November, the secretary of state said.
Needing 61,123 voter signatures to make the ballot, the campaign submitted more than 99,000 in February. But Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap deemed more than 47,000 of the signatures invalid, putting the question well below the threshold.
The campaign claims 17,000 valid voter signatures were dismissed and plans to challenge the decision. They have 10 days to appeal, according to Dunlap spokeswoman Kristen Schulze Muszynski.
Those 17,000 signatures were tossed because the signature of the notary who signed the petitions did not match a signature the notary had on file, according to the ruling. If those signatures had been counted, the question would have had the needed support, the campaign said.
“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,’’ the campaign said in a statement.
Dunlap said the contested notary’s signature was found on more than 5,000 petitions. Schulze Muszynski said the campaign was not alleging fraud. And Dunlap told The Bangor Daily News: “We’re not saying any malfeasance was or wasn’t done.’’
According to the Daily News, even if the appeal fails, the question could still wind up going to voters in 2017 if more valid signatures are collected in the next two months.
The campaign hopes Maine—which approved of medical marijuana in 1999—will join Massachusetts as a New England state putting recreational legalization to voters during the 2016 Presidential election. The Massachusetts question has not formally secured its spot on the ballot just yet, but cleared its tallest hurdle last year when it collected more than the needed 64,750 signatures before a late autumn deadline.
A poll released Thursday from WBZ and UMass Amherst shows 53 percent of Massachusetts voters support legalization, with 40 percent opposed.
Arizona, California, Nevada and Michigan could also vote on the issue this fall. Since 2012, recreational marijuana has been legalized in Colorado, Washington state, Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C.
Another New England state is also grappling with the issue, in this case at the legislative level. Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin has voiced support for legalizing recreational sales, and the state Senate last week passed a bill that would do so. The issue is now going to the state’s House of Representatives.