AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill to legalize recreational use of marijuana and regulate it like alcohol in Maine has garnered 35 co-sponsors and now heads to a legislative committee hearing.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, would make major changes in Maine’s drug law, ranging from making possession of up to 2.5 ounces of pot legal to imposing a tax of $50 per ounce. It was referred to the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee on Wednesday.
Russell and Republican Rep. Aaron Libby of Waterboro, a co-sponsor, publicized the measure last month during a media event at the State House. Since then, the bill, LD 1229, “An Act to Regulate and Tax Marijuana,” attracted 34 other co-sponsors. Among them is Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, Senate chairman of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, which will determine the fate of the bill after a public hearing and work sessions. Other co-sponsors include tribal representatives of the Penobscot Nation and Houlton Band of Maliseets, independent Rep. Ben Chipman of Portland, 28 Democrats and three Republicans.
“Maine can and should take a more sensible approach to marijuana policy, and we are glad to see so many legislators agree,” David Boyer, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said Wednesday in a prepared statement.
Russell’s bill would make it legal for individuals to grow as many as six plants if they are cultivated in a locked space. She also supports allowing the transfer of the drug from one adult to another without compensation, as long as they are at least 21 years old. The bill would keep in place the legal prohibition against smoking pot in public and calls on the Department of Administrative and Financial Services to license marijuana retail stores, cultivation facilities, product manufacturing facilities and testing facilities.
The proposed legislation also says an individual couldn’t be denied a permit to carry a concealed handgun on the grounds that he or she “lacks good moral character” because of marijuana use allowed if the bill is enacted.
“I believe that ending marijuana prohibition is a true part of limited government,” Libby said during the February media event to introduce the proposal. “As a fiscal conservative, I see great potential in the economic growth of removing these prohibitions.”
The bill likely will draw opposition from public health and law enforcement groups. Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, said last week that his group remains adamantly against the legalization of marijuana at any level.
Paul McCarrier of Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine told the Bangor Daily News by phone Wednesday that his organization also would oppose the bill.
“We believe it is masquerading as decriminalization because it will force people to have to buy plants and seeds from out-of-state interests,” McCarrier said. “The way the bill is written does not protect the grower or individual producer.”
If the Legislature approves the bill, it would go to a statewide referendum. Washington and Colorado approved ballot measures last year that legalized marijuana for recreational use. Bills to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol also are expected to be debated this year in Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Vermont, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.
Momentum for legalizing marijuana as more than a medicinal product in Maine seems to be growing, especially in Portland. In addition to Russell, six members of the city’s legislative delegation — Chipman, Rep. Richard Farnsworth, Rep. Eric Jorgensen, Rep. Matt Moonen, Rep. Peter Stuckey and Rep. Denise Harlow — are co-sponsoring LD 1229.
Last week, a consortium of advocacy groups and activists launched a petition drive to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Portland. On the same day, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat who represents Maine’s 1st District, signed on as a co-sponsor of a federal bill that would lift federal prohibitions against marijuana use.
Russell sponsored similar legislation in the previous Legislature. That bill fizzled after the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted 10-3 that it ought not pass.
A public hearing on this year’s bill has yet to be scheduled.