October 24, 2017
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Lawmakers fret that LePage will thwart rules to allow legal pot sales in Maine

By Steve Mistler, Maine Public
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
A man holds some of the free marijuana Crash Barry handed out in Monument Square in Portland.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage has long been outspoken critic of the voter-approved law that allows for the adult use and sale of marijuana. Now, lawmakers charged with drafting a bill that will help set up licensing, taxation and public safety rules worry the governor won’t lift a finger to implement it.

The LePage administration has been conspicuously absent from the bill drafting process for the past nine months. Recently, lawmakers worried the administration planned to block the bill when they couldn’t get guidance from Maine Revenue Services about setting up a sales tax framework.

This week those concerns were amplified as lawmakers put the final touches on a bill that could be voted on by the full Legislature in October.

Democratic Rep. Teresa Pierce said governors in other states opposed legalizing marijuana, but they implemented the law once voters passed it.

“And I find it — I’ll say it — appalling that we have heard that this might not be acted upon. And that they’re not doing their job, that they’re elected to do and are paid to do,” she said. “And it is wildly frustrating to have worked nine months on something and know that might be the outcome.”

So far, the LePage’s administration’s intentions are mystery. The governor’s office routinely ignores press inquiries and it didn’t respond to questions on Thursday.

But speculation is growing that the administration won’t initiate the rulemaking process once, and if, the committee bill passes the Legislature.

Members of the committee openly wondered if they could force the administration to act. But the marijuana law is setup in such a way that final rulemaking for policies such as licensing retailers and cultivators falls to the state bureaucracy and, as governor, LePage is in control.

Republican Sen. Roger Katz said he has considered the potential that LePage’s allies in the House will block the bill, or that the governor will refuse to implement it.

“I think that the message to our colleagues is going to be, ‘You have a choice. You can vote for a reasonable bill or you can vote for chaos.’ And that’s going to be the same thing with respect to implementation,” he said.

The committee voted 13-2 to pass a final bill Thursday, prohibiting drive-up and internet sales of marijuana. There is a residency requirement of two years to obtain a retail or cultivators license — a move designed to give Maine medical marijuana providers a leg up in the recreational market.

There also a new tax structure. The tax on retail sales will adhere to what voters passed in November, 10 percent, but there will be a 10 percent excise tax on wholesale sales between cultivators and retailers based on weight.

Additionally, the bill gives a 5 percent slice of the tax revenue to municipalities that allow retail or growing operations.

Where LePage stands on any of those initiatives is unclear.

This report appears as part of a media partnership with Maine Public.

 


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