Maine: A Missed Opportunity?

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel March 14, 2016

    This fall, we expected a voter initiative on Maine’s ballot that would legalize marijuana. Polling suggested a clear majority of Maine voters (65%) would approve full legalization if given the chance to vote on it.

    The Campaign To Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Maine, the group running the initiative, were confident they had more than met the requirement of 61,123 valid signatures when they turned in a total of 99,229 signatures. Then came the bad news from the Secretary of State’s office.

    According to Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, more than 47,686 signatures were rejected (48% disqualification rate!), including 17,000 signatures on the basis of the signature of a single notary. Despite attesting to the signatures, his own signature appeared “inconsistent” with the signature on file with the state. Without even notifying the proponents that the state had a question about whether those petitions had been properly notarized, on March 2nd the Secretary of State simply announced the initiative was rejected for failing to submit the required number of valid signatures.

    State Officials Frequently Oppose Voter Initiatives

    No one should be surprised that in most states, the elected officials who have to determine whether a voter initiative qualifies for the ballot are frequently hoping to find a legal basis to refuse to qualify the measure, especially if it seeks to legalize marijuana. Most elected officials remain committed to the war on marijuana smokers and are opposed to marijuana legalization. This is arguably why, to date, not a single state legislature has approved the legalization of marijuana despite majority support for such a change among the voters in those states.

    The proponents of a voter initiative have to frequently revise (sometimes more than once) the summary language describing the proposal that will appear on the ballot, overcoming technical and substantive objections by the state authorities who are obviously hoping to undermine the success of the initiative. The current situation in Maine appears to fall into this category.

    Proponents Now Seeking Judicial Review

    The proponents have now gone to court to seek judicial review of what they believe is an arbitrary and unfair decision to disqualify so many of the signatures. The suit was filed on March 10th, and the court must reach a decision within 40 days. If the suit is successful, and those 17,000 signatures that were initially rejected because of the state’s concern the notary’s signature was not consistent, the initiative could still qualify for the November ballot.

    Worth noting is that while all elected officials claim they embrace democracy and respect the will of the voters, the truth is they accept democracy and the will of the voters only when it coincides with their personal political views. When, as was the case in Maine, the initiative seeks to enact a public policy not favored by the state establishment, democracy and the will of the voters is seen as an inconvenience to be avoided.

    While we await the decision of the court, we might also ask the obvious question of how the Maine legalization initiative, after months of work and tens of thousands of dollars in costs associated with collecting the signatures, ended up in such a mess.

    What Went Wrong?

    In addition to the actions of an unfriendly secretary of state, it also appears the proponents may have brought this problem on themselves.

    First, a little recent history. Initially, two competing legalization initiatives were circulated in Maine this year. One was drafted by MPP and the other by a group of local grassroots activists calling themselves Legalize Maine. When it became clear the competing initiatives might well assure neither would be approved, a successful effort merged the two initiatives with an agreement to adopt the more progressive language drafted by Legalize Maine but turn the management of the initiative over to MPP and their local front-group, The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Maine. MPP would agree to raise the necessary funding to qualify the proposal for the ballot and run a professional campaign.

    That sounded like a rational plan, since MPP has in the last several years successfully qualified several voter initiatives around the country. This time, though, something went terribly wrong.

    Specifically, they hired Olympic Consulting, a firm specializing in voter initiatives. Based in Lewiston, Maine, Olympic Consulting would actually hire the signature collectors and oversee the signature collection process. This may well have been the crucial mistake, as we now learn that this same company also failed to qualify a second voter initiative this year in Maine (to legalize casino gambling), in which there were also allegations of irregularities in the signature collection process.

    It turns out that the head of that same firm, Stavros Mendros, is the notary whose signature is now being challenged by the Secretary of State and the basis for disallowing at least 17,000 signatures.

    Mendros plead guilty in 2007 to three counts of improperly notarizing documents involving an effort to allow a casino in Washington County. Again in 2013, Mendros was the subject of an ethics investigation by the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices regarding an allegation of unethical behavior during a 2011 attempt to bring casino gambling to Lewiston. There were plenty of warning signs that this consulting firm sometimes played it fast and loose with government regulations, and now that choice to use Olympic Consulting to gather and notarize signatures has apparently come home to roost.

    Perhaps the Court Will Save The Initiative

    Of course we all are hopeful that the courts will overrule the secretary of state and qualify the initiative for the ballot. However, it is rare for courts to second-guess state officials in these situations, and it is certainly not helpful that the group, and the specific individual, alleged to have incorrectly notarized so many signatures has a long track record of just such unethical conduct.

    Regardless of the outcome, someone surely made an incredibly poor choice when they chose to hire a firm with such a checkered past for such a crucial role in the campaign. We will learn by April 11 whether this proved fatal to the legalization campaign for 2016 in Maine.


    This column was first published on Marijuana.com



    15 responses to “Maine: A Missed Opportunity?”

    1. Cat Cassie says:

      This is just awful . I don’t think they should be able to get away with something so important to the people of Maine. The majority rules or at least it’s supposed to.

    2. Bob Constantine says:

      Thank you for the informative article Keith.

      The problem with seeking permission from a state to engage in self ownership, is it becomes a paradox.

    3. Julian says:

      Thank you Keith,
      We need the history and background in order to avoid mistakes in the future.

      It sounds like the initiative voters should be suing the notary, not the governor?

      At least 40 days is not that long to wait, but is there time to file charges on the notary and get the votes re-notarized? Why should voters be responsible for the deceptive practices of a notary?

    4. $10 Lid says:

      MPP, you own the debacle in Maine. Cozied up to corporate money and now this?
      NORML has always stayed the course. I’ll remember that when donating in the future.

    5. Evening Bud says:

      This is truly a tragic situation.

      On the other hand, it serves as an abject lesson; and demonstrates once again the old adage that things that are worth fighting for rarely come easily.

      But I also believe the old adage that that which does not kill us (our movement) only makes us stronger.

    6. TheOracle says:

      Thanks for the after action report!

      I’m guessing Maine’s attempt failed because they had to do everything on the cheap, that Olympic Consulting was cheaper than any other outfit. That’s okay, but going forward you could hire more than one company to get the signatures, someone more expensive, bigger, with more personnel to handle things like not on the cheap.

      Now turning to Pennsylvania, the medical marijuana legislation is probably going nowhere, as the there are over 100 amendments, and scuttlebutt has it that the state movers and shakers don’t want to set up medical marijuana and then adult recreational because they don’t want the medical guys that can’t transfer to adult recreational to go out of business so want adult recreational outfits to sell the medical tax-free.

      Harrisburg can’t agree on a state budget, and with over 100 amendments what makes anyone think they’ll agree enough on MMJ to pass any kind of useful legislation. I doubt they’ll pass anything, and if they do it’ll be useless. Patients will be waiting until the cows come home, and years later still will be waiting for their legal medicine.

      Here are some local online newspaper links for your consideration.




      • Julian says:

        Congratulations Oracle!
        I just heard the news; the Pennsylvania House just passed a similar version as the Senate to legalize medicinal marijuana!
        I know theres always room for improvement, and MPP has had a tough track record lately, but I know you have been posting about the odds and the struggle for years on this blog, and they get some credit for this one. I just hope MPP keeps the momentum and coordination with NORML in Texas! I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t feel right if we didn’t have NORML chapters to help guide the moral compass as we improve the legislation we pass…
        For now, let’s celebrate and enjoy as this passes the governor’s desk… Another victory!!! And a legislative one at that!

    7. J. Minger says:

      How STUPID could MMP possibly have to be to hire Mendros for this???


      Norml, where were you, or anyone with their heads on straight, on this one? There was plenty of opportunity to step in and consult before the sh*t hit the fan. Embarrassing.

      How does Mendros still have a job? He better hang up the gloves, for God’s sake.

    8. Anonymous says:

      I am hoping that if the Pennsylvania House actually manages to pass any kind of medical marijuana legislation that when it gets back in the Senate that they puts a lot more stuff in it that the cannabis community wants.

      You can’t grow your own, and you can’t get the vegetable matter to vape or smoke it. As it stands, this legislation is a useless piece of shit. It’s great for patients who will benefit from the pills, oils and liquids. Don’t get me wrong.

      Read all about it in the excerpts and at the link below.

      Pa. House passes elaborate amendment to medical marijuana bill

      If the bill passes it will go back to the Senate, which voted 40-7 for a similar approach in May. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf supports legalized medical marijuana.


    9. RUT says:

      I THINK KEITH IS RIGHT! The politicians patronize the voters about respecting their vote but they really do not. That is why this cause has taken over a half century. If government does not like the outcome of the popular vote they can use the electoral college to override the voters. Our vote and wishes can be struct down just for sport by government. The tycoons that run the media empires know they can sculpt public opinion using propaganda on the networks they control. America’s information system our so called press is corrupted by tycoons.For how many years the press helped government sell the great war on drugs? Our founding fathers did not give us the freedom of the press so tycoons can cherry pick what and how stories are told to us. Most of the so called main stream media have political agendas. only short years ago the press reported on a presidential campeign not conduct it. The press is deciding who we see on stage. Our debates have become like HBO specials that you must subscribe to see or operate a computer to stream. A poorly informed voter can not make a good choice. I WOULD SAY GOVERNMENT HAS KEPT US FIGHTING OUR WAY OUT OF A PAPER BAG FOR YEARS ON THE POT ISSUE ! They just want to keep arresting our people. America is fast becoming a prison colony. We have more people in prison because it is profitable for the prison for profit outfits like GEO INC.

    10. Julian says:

      Can’t argue with that brother. All I would add to that is let our Congressman be aware we are aware… Take Action!
      (Link top right of screen, or click on “laws”).