The Maine House of Representatives voted Monday to sustain Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of an omnibus bill meant to tax and regulate marijuana.
The House voted 74-62 to support LePage’s veto, which fell short of the two-thirds of members present threshold necessary to override a veto.
LD 1650 was written by a special legislative committee. LePage wrote in his veto message that the bill conflicts with federal law, fails to account adequately for Maine’s existing medical marijuana industry and sets “unrealistic timelines.”
“We need assurances that a change in policy or administration at the federal level will not nullify” public and private investments in the industry, he wrote, adding that the bill fails to align with existing medical marijuana law, particularly because sales tax on medical pot would be lower.
“The two programs must be considered together,” wrote LePage.
During a radio interview Monday on WGAN, LePage said the bill was “rushed” and that he has sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, requesting guidance on whether the federal government would consider retail marijuana sales to be a violation of anti-trafficking laws.
The bill would set up a state licensing system for cultivators, stores, marijuana product manufacturers and testers. It establishes a 10 percent sales tax and an excise tax based on weight for wholesale sales between growers and sellers and requires municipalities to opt in to allowing retail establishments.
Mainers can already grow and possess recreational marijuana and that won’t change, but there’s no way to legally sell or purchase it outside of the state’s medical marijuana system. The commercial part of the voter-approved legalization bill has been delayed until February 2018.
LD 1650’s demise means selling marijuana for recreational purposes remains illegal until then, though there is scant time for the executive branch to adopt rules and gain legislative approval under that deadline.
The Legislature could still act when it returns in January, though technically, it would have to start the bill process over again after Monday’s veto override failure.
House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, supported LePage’s arguments and said the Legislature could continue work on the bill between now and January.
“We’re going to be back in this building on a full-time basis in about 60 days,” said Fredette. “Today’s vote is to have us work informally over the next 60 days to see if these issues can be addressed in a timely fashion.”
Proponents of overriding the veto argued that failing to do so would encourage the black market for recreational marijuana.
“If we don’t go ahead and move, we’re going to create incentives for the wrong people,” said Rep. Martin Grohman, I-Biddeford. “I feel like we legalized gasoline but not gas stations here.”
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