On Tuesday (11/2), voters in Maine came out in force to say "Yes" to Question Two, a ballot measure that will protect certain patients who use marijuana medicinally from prosecution under the state's drug laws. Question Two was approved by 61%, with voter turnout at 45% -- ten percent more than election officials said they expected to see at the polls.
"We felt likely to win, but support for Question Two went up even more over the last ten days before the election," Craig Brown, a spokesman for Mainers for Medical Rights, the group that sponsored the measure, told The Week Online. Brown credited Cumberland County Sheriff Mark Dion, who announced his support for the measure at a press conference two weeks ago, with the last minute boost.
By deciding in favor of Question Two, Mainers went against the advice of the state's medical association, which had aggressively opposed the measure, as well as most of the local media. Out of eighteen major papers around the state, three editorial boards were in favor of the measure, but fifteen urged voters to reject it.
Brown said that the greatest criticism against the measure came from those who said it was poorly written because it does not address distribution. The wording of Question Two allows patients with a doctor's recommendation to possess as much as 1 1/4 ounces of marijuana, and as many as six plants, as long as only three are mature. But another provision protects caregivers from prosecution as well, raising the issue of buyers' clubs and other details that are still being ironed out in other states that have passed similar laws. "We told them Question Two is the first step," Brown said. "And now that it has passed, we're saying, okay, let's get to work right away on creating a distribution system."
Some of those who had opposed the measure seem to be rising to that challenge. Already, Brown said, Maine Governor Angus King has indicated that he may ask state Attorney General Andrew Ketterer to appoint a task force to work out the details of a distribution plan. Ketterer, who has said he thinks the law as written will have little impact on law enforcement, told the Portland Press Herald yesterday that he would be happy to serve on such a task force, and also said he would oppose attempts to overturn the law.
Although no one else has been named as a potential candidate for the task force, Brown said at least one group might be left out. "The executive director of the Maine Medical Association said on the radio this week that he had no interest in being included," Brown said. "He said that if the Feds aren't at the table, he thinks it's a waste of time."
Maine is the seventh state in which voters have approved the medical use of marijuana. California and Arizona passed such laws in 1996, and Alaska, Washington, Nevada and Oregon followed suit last year. Voters in the District of Columbia also approved a medical marijuana initiative in November of 1998, but Congress forbade election officials from releasing results of the vote until this September, and placed a provision voiding the law in the current appropriations bill.
Mainers for Medical Rights is online at http://www.mainers.org. The site includes the full text of Question Two.