February 10, 2015 / 10:30 PM / 5 years ago

Maine group seeks ballot initiative to legalize recreational pot

PORTLAND, Maine (Reuters) - Marijuana advocates have filed paperwork in Maine seeking a 2016 ballot initiative that would legalize recreational use of the drug in the northeastern-most U.S. state, officials said on Tuesday.

A home-grown marijuana plant is seen at an undisclosed location in Israel, January 28, 2014. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

The move comes amid a broader, nationwide push for marijuana legalization following 2014 ballot victories in Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia, which joined Colorado and Washington in allowing adults to use the drug without a prescription.

Some 23 states and the District of Columbia also permit medical marijuana use, though the drug remains illegal under federal law.

Legalize Maine, a local organization with no ties to national pro-pot groups, said legalizing marijuana would help the state’s ailing, largely rural economy.

“Our focus is to be sure that the money stays here in the state, where it’s desperately needed, said Paul McCarrier, the group’s executive director.

Maine’s Republican governor, Paul LePage, has long opposed efforts to legalize marijuana, calling it a “gateway drug.”The measure, filed with the secretary of state’s office, would treat marijuana like an agricultural product, encourage local farmers to grow it, then tax its sale at 10 percent, helping buoy state and local coffers, McCarrier said.

The 30-page petition seeking a ballot initiative includes some features unique to Maine, including creation of pot-smoking social clubs, said McCarrier.

The Marijuana Policy Project, the nation’s largest marijuana policy organization, aims to put similar measures before voters in 2016 in Arizona, California, Massachusetts and Nevada but has yet to file a formal petition in Maine.

McCarrier said he hopes the groups can work together to get a measure before voters.

“Whether people are against it or for it in Maine, they just want to vote on it and put the issue to bed,” he said.

Maine’s largest city, Portland, and neighboring South Portland have both legalized possession of marijuana.

Editing by Scott Malone and James Dalgleish

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