- Associated Press - Sunday, December 25, 2016

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - A hard-fought battle to legalize marijuana for recreational use in Maine was part of a crowded referendum ballot that included an election overhaul, a gun control proposal and a minimum wage increase.

Maine and Massachusetts became the first states on the East Coast to legalize marijuana on Election Day. Maine’s law allows residents to legally grow marijuana and smoke it as soon as early 2017, but legislative tweaks will be necessary for the sale and taxation of marijuana.

Also approved were proposals for ranked-choice voting for statewide elections, a minimum wage increase and a tax increase for high-income earners for education.

The high-profile referendums were voted the top story of 2016 in Maine by The Associated Press and its member organizations.

The No. 2 story was the continuing epidemic of heroin and fentanyl abuse that has led to an average of an overdose death a day, and a record for deaths.

President Barack Obama’s creation of a new national monument was voted the No. 3 story. The donation of 87,000 acres to the National Park Service fulfilled a dream of the land owner, Burt’s Bees co-founder Roxanne Quimby.

The No. 4 story was a presidential election that revealed a divide in Maine, which split its electoral votes for the first time. The 2nd Congressional District voted for Republican President-elect Donald Trump, while the 1st Congressional District voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Rounding out the Top 10:


5. IMPEACHMENT ATTEMPT: Republican Gov. Paul LePage survived an impeachment attempt after coming under fire for alleged abuse of power for his intervention to deny a private-sector job to a political foe. He also was attacked for racially charged remarks about drug dealers and, later, for leaving an obscene rant on a lawmaker’s voicemail.

6. CONGRESSIONAL RACE: Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin won re-election in the most costly congressional race in state history in a rematch against Democrat Emily Cain. The hard-working Poliquin has earned the nickname “Energizer bunny” by colleagues and he intends to keep up the pace.

7. HAYRIDE CRASH: The criminal phase of a haunted-hayride crash that killed a teenager and injured more than a dozen others drew to a close when the farm acknowledged criminal negligence. Harvest Hill Farm pleaded guilty to a felony driving infraction in exchange for dismissal of a manslaughter charge.

8. DEADLY FIRE: A landlord charged with negligence in a fire that killed six people in Portland was acquitted of manslaughter. But Gregory Nisbet faced a 90-day jail term for a code violation related to inadequate means of escape from third-floor rooms in his building. Nisbet has filed an appeal seeking a new trial.

9. SHIPYARD WOES: Bath Iron Works celebrated as the sophisticated, stealthy USS Zumwalt joined the Navy but reeled under the disappointing loss of a critical Coast Guard contract worth up to $20 billion. The shipyard looked to the Coast Guard contract to provide stability for the workforce.

10. WARMING OCEAN: A study indicated baby lobsters might not be able to survive in the ocean’s warming waters. The findings by scientists affiliated with the University of Maine Darling Marine Center and Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences could spell trouble for the state’s signature fishery.

Other stories getting votes included the revelation that a Tennessee hiker was still alive when searchers scaled back their search in July 2013; a soccer championship by a team with players from Somalia, Kenya and Congo that was seen a victory for Maine’s immigrant community; and the short-lived European Union attempt to ban Maine lobsters.

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