AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, taxing and regulating it like alcohol, will receive a public hearing at 10 a.m. Friday before the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.
The bill, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Diane Russell of Portland, would revamp Maine’s marijuana laws, allowing people age 21 and older to possess as much as 2.5 ounces of marijuana legally. It would establish an excise tax of $50 per ounce at the wholesale level and a 5 percent sales tax for retail sales. Ten percent of revenue from those taxes would pay for regulating marijuana sales, 10 percent would go for addiction treatment, 5 percent would fund research on marijuana through 2021 and the balance would go to the state’s general fund.
The bill also would impose the same restrictions that apply to tobacco use and ban smoking in public places. It would make it legal for individuals to grow as many as six plants if they are cultivated in a locked space. If the bill, LD 1229, wins approval from the full Legislature and Gov. Paul LePage, the question of legalizing marijuana for recreational use would go to Maine voters in November.
Voters in Washington state and Colorado approved similar measures in November 2012.
Russell’s bill attracted 35 co-sponsors. Among them are six other members of Portland’s legislative delegation, three Republicans and tribal representatives from the Penobscot Nation and Houlton Band of Maliseets. Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, the Senate chairman of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, also signed on as a co-sponsor.
“Full legalization is coming to Maine,” Russell said Thursday in a prepared statement. “As policy makers, it’s our job to get ahead of this issue and set up an informed, responsible framework of taxation and regulation. Then it should be up to the people of Maine to decide at the ballot box this fall whether they wish to legalize marijuana for adults or not.”
Russell sponsored similar legislation in the previous Legislature. The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee snuffed that bill, voting 10-3 that it ought not pass.
This year’s bill likely will draw opposition from public health and law enforcement groups, although a national organization called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition has expressed support for the measure.
Paul McCarrier of Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine has told the Bangor Daily News that his organization opposes the bill for a number of reasons. Russell said Thursday that she continues to explore ways the bill could be adapted to address those concerns.
Supporters, including representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine and the Marijuana Policy Project, plan to gather at 9:20 a.m. Friday at the State House to make their case for legalization and gear up for the hearing.