Maine marijuana advocates to sue state over ballot disqualification

Good morning from Augusta, where proponents of marijuana legalization will announce today that they’re suing the Maine secretary of state’s office over its decision to disqualify the issue from the 2016 ballot.

The move was expected since Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap’s decision was released last week, and it could largely revolve around 17,000 signatures notarized by Stavros Mendros, the president of Olympic Consulting, a Lewiston signature-gathering firm.

Backers of the initiative, led by the national Marijuana Policy Project, submitted more than 99,000 signatures — well above the just over 61,000 valid signatures needed to get on the ballot. But Dunlap’s office invalidated nearly 48,000 signatures for a range of problems.

Campaign leaders had 10 days to file a lawsuit challenging the decision in Superior Court, and they announced Thursday that they would file the suit in Kennebec County and release more details at an afternoon news conference in Augusta.

There’s a lot at stake for marijuana advocates, who want to make Maine just the fifth state to legalize recreational marijuana. Here’s your soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd

Correction: Maine would be the fifth, not the fourth, state to legalize marijuana. The post has been updated.

Democrats to release welfare reform plan

Democratic legislative leaders called a Thursday morning news conference to unveil a welfare reform agenda, but they didn’t release details ahead of time.

It’s an issue that Republicans have hammered them on in recent elections: Gov. Paul LePage won re-election in 2014 largely on that issue and since then, his administration has been aggressively pushing changes on that front.

Democrats have groped for a message to match, but in particular, Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland, has gotten more muscular on it this session, pushing for limits on lottery ticket purchases with welfare money.

That came after the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting found in December that public assistance recipients got more than $22 million in lottery prizes since 2010, which likely means they spent hundreds of millions on the lottery.

Alfond, House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, and other top Democrats will speak at the State House news conference at 9:30 a.m. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • Community Health Options, a Maine-based healthcare cooperative, is eyeing a premium increase after losing $31 million in 2015, according to the Portland Press Herald. Once one of the top-performing groups that were created under the Affordable Care Act, the cooperative saw an enrollment and claims explosions that forced it to suspend sales of individual plans.
  • U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from Maine’s 2nd District, has introduced a bill that would give National Guard members and reservists a tax deduction now available to federal employees who travel 50 miles or more for work. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list

Best of Maine’s Craigslist

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.