The Other Maine Vote

Voters in Maine disappointed liberals and civil libertarians last night with a vote to repeal the state's legalization of gay marriage, but they also approved something that should make those civil libertarians happy: a provision that will allow for state-approved medical marijuana dispensaries.

The medical marijuana provision passed somewhat resoundingly: 58.6 percent to 41.4 percent, as of this morning, with 93 percent of precincts reporting. It makes Maine the third state with legalized pot stores for medical-marijuana patients (along with Rhode Island and New Mexico), and it's the first state to approve them via a ballot initiative.

It also expands the list of conditions that can be treated with marijuana to include intractable pain, agitation of Alzheimer's, and Lou Gehrig's disease.

13 states currently allow for medical marijuana use, and, after Attorney General Eric Holder sent new guidelines earlier this month to federal prosecutors, FBI and DEA officials, the federal government will essentially go along with state laws, ceasing arrests and prosecutions of medical marijuana users who comply with the laws of their states.

A big concern for medical marijuana advocates has been that it's hard to convince voters and state legislators to pass laws that they know the federal government will contradict. If medical marijuana users get arrested by the FBI and DEA, what's the point in legalizing medical pot at the state level? After the effort of putting a bill through the legislature or getting a measure put on the ballot, passage would seem like a pyrrhic victory.

So, with that in mind, Marijuana Policy Project Executive Director Rob Kampia, whose group drafted the Maine proposal that's now law, suggested the Obama administration's new policy had something to do with the vote: "Coming a decade after passage of Maine's original marijuana law, this is a huge sign that voters are comfortable with these laws, and also a sign that the recent change of policy from the Obama administration is having a major impact," he said.