Q1: Should Maine legalize recreational marijuana?

If passed, Question 1 will allow individuals over the age of  21 to use and possess recreational marijuana. In addition, the measure would provide for the regulation of marijuana as an agricultural product, permitting licensed marijuana retail facilities and enacting a 10 percent sales tax.

Medical marijuana was first legalized in Maine in 1999. However, repeated attempts to legalize recreational marijuana within the state have been unsuccessful. This year, recreational marijuana measures will also appear on ballots in Arizona, California, Massachusetts and Nevada.

According to a poll by the Portland Press Herald in early October, 53 percent of Maine voters support the legalization of marijuana for recreational use.

What is the case for legalization?

Supporters of the measure, including Matt Schweich ’09, Director of State Campaigns for the Marijuana Policy Project, cite economic benefits such as increased tax revenue and creation of jobs. Schweich called the legalization of recreational marijuana a “social justice issue,” arguing that moving marijuana out of the unregulated market and into regulated business would work against drug-policing policies that disproportionately impact people of color.

Who opposes it?

Critics of the referendum argue that the measure does not include adequate preparations to regulate marijuana after it becomes legal. Maine Attorney General Janet Mills has argued that the phrasing of the law would also legalize the possession of marijuana by minors.

In a letter to the Portland Press Herald, Stephanie Anderson, district attorney of Cumberland County, argued that Question 1 would create a “profit-driven [marijuana] industry” in the midst of an already overwhelming substance abuse public health crisis. Furthermore, she wrote that the Department of Agriculture is not experienced enough to create an adequate regulatory system, and costs generated by the law will surpass the tax revenue it generates.

How would this impact Bowdoin students?

According to a 2013 survey conducted by the Orient, marijuana is the most commonly used drug on Bowdoin’s campus. The results showed that 58 percent of respondents had smoked marijuana “at least once to a few times” at Bowdoin, while 31 percent reported smoking “every month or two” or “weekly or more.” The survey found a slight increase in marijuana use on campus since a previous survey, distributed five semesters earlier.

Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster declined to comment prior to the election on how and whether the College’s policy toward marijuana would change if the drug was legalized. 

Q3: Should Maine require background checks for gun transfers between non-licensed dealers?

Question 3 asks Maine citizens if they want to require background checks before a sale or transfer of firearms between people who are not licensed dealers. 

The law is aimed at further regulating the secondary gun market and stipulates that if neither party is licensed, they both must meet with a licensed dealer, who will conduct a background check on the transferee. Exceptions include if the firearm is used in emergency self-defense, if both parties are hunting or sport shooting together and if the transfer is to a family member.

Who supports Question 3?

The referendum is supported by political heavyweights, most notably former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose nonprofit organization Everytown for Gun Safety has donated over $1.7 million to the cause.

At a debate on Question 3 held by Quinby House on October 27, Associate Professor of Government Jeffrey Selinger and Gary M. Pendy Professor of Social Sciences Jean Yarborough discussed the costs and benefits of the law. Selinger defended the referendum, hailing its sensibility. 

“You don’t always know who you’re selling your gun to,” he said. “The law would just ask that all citizens follow basic regulations for a second sale too.” 

Who opposes it?

Twelve of 16 Maine police chiefs as well as the vocal National Rifle Association oppose the referendum. The main argument from the opponents—some of whom are supporters of gun control themselves—is that the law is too difficult to implement and enforce. They claim that since Maine law already prohibits criminals from purchasing firearms, the only people affected by closing the gun show loophole are law-abiding citizens. Others believe that the law will not stop criminals from getting their hands on guns, so this regulation is unnecessary. 

Gary M. Pendy Professor of Social Sciences Jean Yarborough, who argued in favor of a “No” vote, characterized the law more as an impediment at odds with Maine’s culture that a safety measure. 

“If I want to lend my gun to a student who’s going hunting for a weekend, both the student and I would have to go through so many barriers if this referendum is enacted,” she said.

Q4: Should Maine raise the state minimum wage to $12 by 2020?

Question 4 presents an increase of the state minimum wage from $7.50 to $9 in 2017 and increasing by an additional dollar until 2020 when it would reach $12 per hour. The referendum will also increase the minimum tipped laborer wage from $3.75 to $5, increasing by $1 every year until 2024 when it equals the general minimum wage. The state statute would also insure that the minimum wage will continue to rise with fluctuations in the consumer price index, which measures the changes in prices of basic consumer goods and services. 

Why raise the minimum wage?

Proponents of raising the minimum wage often point the concept of a “living wage”—the idea that people who work full time jobs ought to earn enough to support their families. Real wages, adjusted for inflation, have remained stagnant across the country in recent years. 

“The minimum wage has fallen in real terms, or in inflation adjusted terms. If it was kept to where it was in the early 70s it would be up above $11 an hour,” said William D. Shipman Professor of Economics John Fitzgerald.

Higher wages translates to more expendable income for consumers, which can benefit businesses, as consumers with higher incomes buy more. Increasing the minimum wage might also decrease the number of workers and families dependent on public assistance. 

What could go wrong?

The main complaints levied against raising the minimum wage focus on the loss of jobs, rise in prices of basic consumer goods and the impact on small businesses. 

If businesses are forced to pay their employees more, companies with thin profit margins might hire less workers. Small businesses in particular would be affected. In 2015, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that over 500,000 jobs would be lost nationally if minimum wage was increased to $10.10. 

Opponents also argue that businesses will respond to this wage increase by proportionately increasing prices, which in turn, deters consumers due to inflated costs. Furthermore, price increases could also negate the quality-of-life benefits that low-income earners would receive from higher wages. 

How would this impact Bowdoin?

The law would not immediate impact Bowdoin students who work on-campus jobs—all student employees who are paid hourly already receive at least $9 per hour after the College restructured student pay at the beginning of this academic year.

The College, like all employers in the state, would be required to increase wages for hourly employees each year until 2020 in accordance with the law.

Q5: Should Maine institute Ranked Choice Voting?

Question 5 asks Mainers to consider implementing something that no state has done before: Ranked Choice Voting (RCV). By allowing voters to mark candidates on the ballot in order of preference rather than voting for one candidate, RCV would redistribute votes for last-place candidates until a majority is reached. 

How does RCV work?

Voters would rank candidates for Maine elections for U.S. Senate, Congress, Governor, State Senate and State Representative in order of preference on the ballot; if no candidate receives an immediate majority, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. The votes of that candidate’s supporters then count for their second choice candidate. This process continues until a candidate earns the majority.

What are the arguments in favor?

Supporters of this bill—including the Maine Democratic Party, Libertarian Party of Maine, Maine Green Independent Party, the League of Women Voters of Maine and a number of individual Maine politicians—say that this system would eliminate the voting mentality of the “lesser of two evils” and ultimately create less negative and targeted campaigning. They argue a more broadly-liked candidate will be elected, rather than a candidate reaping the benefits of “the spoiler effect,” where the vote splits between two ideologically similar candidates, allowing a third candidate to win by plurality. 

Current governor of Maine Paul LePage was elected into office because of split voting—62 percent of the population voted for another candidate—some opponents of RCV argue that the bill is an attempt to get LePage out of office. Out of the 11 last races for governor, nine winners were elected with less than 50 percent of voters; five of those winners were elected with less than 40 percent.

What are the arguments against?

Opponents of the bill—including LePage and a few other individual politicians—point out the cost, ineffectiveness and potential unconstitutionality of implementing RCV.

According to the Maine Office of Fiscal and Program Review, this bill would roughly cost between $600,000 and $800,000 per year for new equipment and necessary resources. Similar costs would persist over the years.

Opponents also worry that the new, “more complex” system of RCV would detract voters, particularly “young voters, African-Americans and those with low levels of education,” according to a Bangor Daily News editorial.

Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, as well as a number of other people, believes that the bill would be unconstitutional. In a March memo, Mills cited that the Maine constitution allows candidates to win by plurality (whereas RCV focuses on candidates winning by majority) and necessitates municipal officials to count votes, rather than a multiple-round, electronic tallying. 

A number of other experts—including courts in four states—disagree with Mills, determining RCV constitutional since it maintains “one person, one vote” and fairly allows the candidate with the most votes to win.