- Associated Press - Monday, February 1, 2016

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - A group that hopes to legalize marijuana in Maine delivered petition signatures to the state Monday as opponents hectored the group’s organizers.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol says it delivered 103,000 signatures in its quest to make Maine the first state in the East to legalize pot for recreational use.

More than a dozen protesters who oppose full legalization but support medical marijuana demonstrated as the petition gatherers carried boxes into the state office complex in Augusta and upstairs to the Secretary of State’s Office.

The marijuana petition was one of the three submitted on Monday, the deadline for filing. Groups also filed petitions to allow a new casino in southern Maine and to boost state school revenues.

A proposal for ranked-choice voting already has the green light, and petitions have been delivered on proposals to increase the minimum wage and for background checks for private gun sales.

One group was a no-show Monday. The Maine GOP announced Friday that it will try for next year instead of November for its proposal to lower the income tax cut and reform welfare.

The marijuana petition was the only one to attract opposition Monday. The protesters said they worry that the proposed ballot measure would commercialize the production and distribution of marijuana and make it harder for medical marijuana users to grow pot for their own use.

“It’s all about big business,” said Will Neils, of Appleton, who uses marijuana to ease his chronic back pain. “They want marijuana to be treated like alcohol. But it’s medicine.”

Some of the protesters taunted the petition gatherers as they carried boxes filled with petitions.

Rep. Diane Russell, a leader in the petition drive, said she was upset to hear protesters “hurl insults” at her friends. She said the protesters are mistaken because the proposal would not affect medical marijuana regulations.

Campaign manager David Boyer said the measure is modeled after a Colorado law that has had no negative effect on the ability to obtain marijuana for medical uses.

Also on Monday, “Stand Up for Students” said it delivered nearly 75,000 signatures related to a school funding measure. The measure would raise $157 million for schools from a 3 percent income tax surcharge on the top 2 percent of wage earners in the state.

And a group that wants the state to allow York County to a host the state’s third casino submitted an unspecified number of signatures. Campaign treasurer Cheryl Timberlake told reporters she had “enough” signatures.

A petition needs 61,123 valid signatures to be placed on the November ballot. The Secretary of State’s Office has until March 2 to verify the petitions.

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