PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The hope Maine marijuana proponents had of growing their own pot by the Yuletide is going up in smoke because a recount of the ballot question to legalize the practice will likely drag into next year.
The recount began Monday in Augusta. Maine residents last month approved legalizing marijuana by a narrow 4,073-vote margin in an election that attracted more than 750,000 votes.
The hotly debated referendum question asked if voters wanted to legalize recreational pot use by adults at least 21 years old. Legalization would require a regulatory structure that would take months to implement.
One facet of the law allows people to grow six marijuana plants at home. Supporters of legalization said after the election they hoped Mainers would have that right by Christmas.
The Maine secretary of state's office said Monday that results won't be certified until the recount is over, likely next year with the potential to stretch into spring.
"More adults are put at risk for using a substance that's safer than alcohol. Implementation is obviously being delayed as well," said David Boyer, campaign manager for a group supporting the referendum.
Despite marijuana activists' calls for concession, the state's anti-marijuana campaign is determined to prevent Mainers from growing pot as a stocking stuffer.
Newell Augur, an attorney for the opposition campaign that requested the recount, pointed out that much of rural Maine opposed the referendum and said those residents deserve the most accurate count possible.
"If we're going to embark on a significant change in our public policy, which this change would represent, we should be absolutely sure this count is accurate," Augur said.
Maine voted in the marijuana referendum on a busy day for pot laws nationwide. California, Nevada and Massachusetts all legalized recreational marijuana. Arizona shot down a similar law.
Maine also has a medical marijuana law, which allows for patients to cultivate up to six mature marijuana plants. Proponents of recreational marijuana have pledged that the medical program will be unaffected by full legalization.
The recount might not be the final hurdle marijuana fans need to clear before legalization goes through. Gov. Paul LePage has expressed reservations about whether the marijuana law can be implemented.
LePage's office did not respond to a request for comment.
"We're going to work with the governor to make sure this program is implemented responsibly and efficiently," Boyer said.