PORTLAND, Maine -- 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, provides 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 on Nov. 8.
In Maine, referendum supporters say the language of 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 teenagers and younger kids couldn't be penalized for consuming or smoking marijuana if the referendum is approved, 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 2 1/2 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."
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.
The disagreement is likely to come up at a debate on Tuesday.
David Boyer, the campaign manager for the Yes On 1 campaign, and travel author Rick Steves will discuss the issue with Gagnon and Jennifer Ackerman, the deputy district attorney for Cumberland County, who will present the opposing side.
California, Nevada and Arizona also have marijuana legalization questions on the ballot this year, and four other states have medical marijuana initiatives on the ballot.