AUGUSTA, Maine — An attempt to ask Maine voters in a November 2016 referendum whether they want to legalize recreational marijuana has failed, the secretary of state’s office said Wednesday.

David Boyer, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said Wednesday afternoon that his group intends to challenge the ruling.

“Based on documents they have provided, it appears that more than 17,000 valid signatures from registered Maine voters were excluded from the count because the signature of a single notary — whose notary commission has not expired — did not exactly match the signature the state has on file for that notary,” said Boyer in a written statement. “We are exploring all legal means available to appeal this determination, and we sincerely hope that 17,000-plus Maine citizens will not be disenfranchised due to a handwriting technicality.”

The group has 10 business days to file an appeal, which would be decided in Superior Court, said Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap.

“We’re not saying any malfeasance was or wasn’t done,” said Dunlap. “That’s not up to us to determine. … Our goal isn’t to invalidate signatures. The goal is to make sure they are valid.”

Petitioners for An Act to Legalize Marijuana turned in 99,229 signatures, but Dunlap’s office could validate only 51,543 of them — far short of the statutory threshold of 61,123 valid signatures. There were nearly 48,000 invalid signatures, Dunlap said in a news release.

Proponents of the measure received their petitions on April 28, 2015. Ballot initiative petitions are valid for a year, meaning that the proponents can gather more signatures between now and April 28, 2016, in an effort to reach the threshold of 61,123 valid signatures. However, the deadline to qualify for this year’s ballot passed on Feb. 1, meaning the question would go on a ballot next year.

The citizens initiative sought to legalize the possession, purchase, growth and sale of marijuana for Mainers 21 years old or older. Initially two groups started collecting signatures for competing marijuana legalization ballot questions, but they joined forces during the signature-gathering process.

Dunlap provided the following reasons for the petition’s failure:

— 31,338 were invalid because the circulators’ signatures did not match the circulators’ signatures or the signature of the notary listed as having administered the oath.

— 13,525 signatures were invalidated because they were not certified as belonging to registered voters in Maine.

— The remaining signatures were invalidated for reasons ranging from paperwork errors to signatures that could not be verified.

Scott Gagnon, director of a group called Smart Approaches to Marijuana, has long been a leading opponent in Maine to marijuana legalization of any kind. He said Wednesday that he was shocked that the petition failed but pleased that he and his supporters will now have more time and resources to fight the abuse of other drugs.

“It’s good news, from our perspective,” said Gagnon, who also is co-chairman of the Maine Opiate Collaborative. “We’re glad it’s off the radar, especially in light of this addiction problem we’re in the middle of in Maine.”

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.