PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Supporters of a referendum to legalize marijuana for recreational use have touted the proposal as applying only to adults 21 and older, but it could actually legalize marijuana for everyone — even children, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills warned.
The interpretation by the state's top prosecutor, a Democrat, provided a late gift to marijuana opponents and put referendum supporters on the defensive.
Scott Gagnon, who directs anti-legalization group Smart Approach to Marijuana, said the organization will have new TV and radio ads next week playing up Mills' concerns about kids and pot.
"There would be nothing in Maine to prevent a young person from having marijuana. We're asking, was it purposeful, or was it just gross negligence?" he said. "If it's gross negligence, I'm not sure I want those people writing drug policy."
Pro-marijuana forces hope Maine and Massachusetts will become the first two states in New England — and the East Coast — to legalize pot for more than medical use when voters cast ballots on Nov. 8.
In Maine, referendum supporters say the language in the proposal clearly states that it would legalize marijuana only for those 21 and older, but Mills came to a different conclusion.
Mills said the referendum removes existing legal language that makes possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil infraction for both adults and children. That means there would be no penalties for children who consume or smoke marijuana, she said.
Scott Anderson, an attorney who represents the pro-legalization Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, disagrees with the attorney general's interpretation and is encouraging voters to read the text of the proposal ahead of the vote.
The referendum language says approval would allow "a person 21 years of age or older to use, possess or transport marijuana accessories and up to 2½ ounces of prepared marijuana."
Anderson questioned why Mills didn't raise her concerns sooner.
"This is a very last-minute change that we were neither expecting nor can explain," Anderson said. "We're encouraging folks to read the voter guide."
Maine Gov. Paul LePage, who previously admitted trying marijuana when he was younger, took to social media with a statement denouncing the referendum.
LePage warned that passage of the proposal could lead to more highway fatalities, and he said the active ingredient in pot could harm children and pets.
"Pot snacks, like cookies, candy, gummy bears and soda, children can't tell" if there's marijuana in them, he said.
A recent poll commissioned for the Portland Press Herald indicated 53 percent of respondents supported the referendum, while 38 percent opposed it. It's unclear whether Mills' comments will sway referendum supporters or voters who're undecided.
A spokesman for Mills said the attorney general was not available for comment Friday. Timothy Feeley said Mills is concerned that nothing in the bill makes it unlawful for a child to possess marijuana, and that there are no penalties for those younger than 21.
Lori Libbey, a registered nurse who works with a group that provides pediatric cannabis for kids with seizure disorders, said she doubts Mills' opinion would sway voters who're waffling. But she said it'll solidify the thinking of those who oppose the proposal.
"This is the kind of information that allows them to say, 'See, I knew this was a bad idea," she said.