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York citizens submit petition to put marijuana legalization on ballot

YORK (WGME) -- York citizens submitted a petition Wednesday afternoon that will likely put the question of marijuana legalization on the November ballot.

Citizens for a Safer Maine needed signatures from 641 registered York voters who voted in the last gubernatorial election, but said they collected nearly 1,000.

"This represents almost a twelfth of the town and almost 15 percent of voters in the last gubernatorial election. It's not a small amount," said David Boyer, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project.

It's likely enough to force a referendum on the proposed pot ordinance. It would allow adults over 21 to have one ounce of marijuana and use it privately in their home. It would still be illegal to have or use pot in public.

The petition comes about 30 days after town selectmen declined to put the issue on the ballot in a 3-2 vote.

Ron Nowell was in the minority. He said it wasn't a vote for or against marijuana, but for voters to decide.

"And I don't support the selectmen that think they're acting as God or Solomon in deciding what petition the voters should vote on."

The effort is backed by the Marijuana Policy Project, which helped pass legalization in Portland last year and is also pushing in South Portland and Lewiston.

"We don't give citations, punish, make people pay fines, take away financial aid for people who drink alcohol and there's no reason to do it for marijuana," said Boyer.

But the concept already has tensions running high in York.

"I think it's ridiculous to compare it to another drug. All drugs can be bad in different ways and cause addiction," said Sally Manninen, a substance abuse counselor with Choose to be Healthy Coalition.

Manninen fears the facts may be getting lost in all of the hype.

"The things you hear from that side are not totally accurate," she said.

Manninen is advocating for more public education and awareness.

"I think it's something people really need to think about," she said. "We have grave concerns about it."

Manninen said Choose to be Healthy Coalition, along with other area groups, is sponsoring an educational forum on marijuana on October 20th. She said they're bringing in people from Colorado who have experienced legalization firsthand.

Boyer said the legalization question will also be on the November ballot in South Portland, and likely Lewiston.