Down East 2013 ©
The November ballot will be chock-full of referendums, with Mainers asked to vote on everything from school consolidation to gay marriage to the excise tax. Perhaps that, along with the lack of a strong campaign on either side, is why little attention has been paid so far to the citizen initiative that will be listed as question five on the ballot, an attempt to amend Maine's medical marijuana laws to allow easier and more regulated access to the drug.
Medical marijuana has been legal in Maine since 1999, when another citizen initiative passed with overwhelming support, but the law has only allowed for marijuana plants to be cultivated by the patients using the drug. The new proposal would register patients and caregivers, give them identification cards and allow the establishment of nonprofit dispensaries to provide them with marijuana.
Similar dispensary systems currently exist in California and Colorado and Rhode Island and New Mexico recently passed laws similar to the one proposed in Maine. Thirteen states have medical marijuana provisions of one kind or another.
The issue hasn't been heavily polled, so the best way to assess the chances of the upcoming referendum may be to examine the outcome of that 1999 vote. A lot can change in ten years, but national polls seem to show that public opinion on medical marijuana hasn't shifted greatly over that time. Maine's demographics are also still very similar.
In 1999, the medical marijuana referendum passed with a Susan-Collins-like landslide, garnering 61 percent of the vote, which is well represented by the amount of blue on the map above, signifying towns that voted in favor of the initiative. Towns colored orange opposed the law. The initiative won majority support in every County in Maine, although it won Aroostook County by only 13 votes.
The areas with the greatest support for medical marijuana were islands like Vinalhaven and Islesboro. It also passed in the city of Portland with 72 percent of the vote. Other large towns with high margins in favor included Freeport, Bar Harbor, Old Orchard Beach, and Orono.
The area most opposed to medical marijuana was Aroostook County south of the Saint John Valley. Towns that voted most strongly against the measure include Mars Hill, Hodgdon, Washburn, and Houlton, although only a few towns voted "No" by more than a few percentage points.
62 percent of voters in Lewiston supported the referendum, as did 58 percent of voters in Bangor.
The middle of the spectrum includes towns like Waterville, Camden, and Belfast, where the voters mirrored the statewide margin.
Those are the numbers. For a more qualitative look at Maine's attitude towards pot, check out Richard Grant's excellent post from last week: Is Maine Coming Out of the Marijuana Closet?