2014-06-06 / Community

Marijuana issue on fall ballot not a sure thing

For marijuana advocates, getting their issue on South Portland’s general election ballot this November may not be as simple as colleting the requisite signatures, especially with the city council backing a concerted public effort to turn back the legalization drive.

To force council action, the Marijuana Policy Project, led in Maine by David Boyer of Portland, will need to collect signatures from 5 percent of registered voters in South Portland. Although City Clerk Susan Mooney said Monday that number is “constantly changing,” Marijuana Policy Project can expect it will need between 950 and 1,000 signatures” In June 2013, Protect South Portland needed 939 signatures to get its Waterfront Protection Ordinance on the November ballot. It submitted 3,779.

According to the South Portland City Charter, once Boyer submits the signatures, Mooney has 20 days to certify them as valid. After that is done, the city council has 60 days hold a public hearing and act on the proposed ordinance.

The council can simply adopt the petitioned draft, legalizing possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana by people age 21 and older or it can forward the proposal to voters. Councilors also can place the ordinance on the ballot alongside their own competing measure.

Because of the statutory requirement that absentee ballots be available 45 days before Election Day, Mooney generally sends them to be printed on or about Sept. 12. Assuming she takes the full 20 days to certify signatures, and that the council similarly runs the clock on its 60-day allowance, Boyer would need to have his signatures submitted no later than June 23.

Even then, there’s no guarantee of a November vote on the issue. Although the Charter gives city councilors 60 days to act on a petition, it also provides a 15-month window in which to schedule a referendum vote. However, 15 months is the maximum time frame. The Charter also stipulates that a referendum shall not be scheduled in less than 30 days after the council takes action to ether adopt the proposal or refer it to voters.

City Attorney Sally Daggett could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but may be called on by the council to offer a legal opinion. After all, if by “submitted to electors,” the Charter can be interpreted to mean the commencement of absentee voting, as opposed to Election Day itself, it may already be too late for Boyer’s group to make the November ballot. Last year, Protect South Portland submitted its Waterfront Protection Ordinance signatures on June 17, and was able to make the November ballot.

Still, not being up for a vote at the same time as a gubernatorial election could work the advantage of the pro-marijuana crowd, given that, as proved to be the case in Portland’s marijuana legalization vote last year, special interests tend to prevail in special and off-year elections when voter turnout is low.

— Compiled by Contributing Writer Duke Harrington

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