Almost three years after Maine voters approved legal adult-use marijuana, the proposed rules for that industry are expected to go before the Legislature as early as next week.
The public comment period for the proposed rules is scheduled to end Sunday at 5 p.m.
“We expect to submit the rules that we have provisionally adopted to the executive director of the Legislature some time next week,” said David Heidrich, director of communications and senior policy adviser at the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services, which oversees the state’s Office of Marijuana Policy.
He said that if everything goes through as planned, the rules will get to the governor for approval before the Legislature adjourns its first regular session on or about June 19. If the rules are approved, they will go into effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns.
The rulemaking process is required by the Marijuana Legalization Act.
Heidrich said the Office of Marijuana Policy, which was formed in February, has been working quickly to get the rules written and comments considered. But the move to the Legislature comes 2 1/2 years after voter approval in November 2016.
“The bill was rewritten two times by the Maine Legislature and vetoed two times by the former governor,” he said about why it took so long to move the process ahead.
The state got back on track with efforts to create a framework for the recreational marijuana market last May, after lawmakers overrode Gov. Paul LePage’s veto.
The comments were incorporated into 74 pages of revised rules, on which another comment period ends June 2. Those comments will be available online, but Heidrich did not yet have a date for when they would be posted. The comments also will be submitted to the Legislature.
The office’s Director Erik Gundersen, Deputy Director Scott Lever, policy analyst Gabi Pierce and Heidrich each reviewed the comments. So far, 35 comments have been submitted online, in writing and from a public meeting in held in Portland on May 23.
Heidrich said one of the comments given frequently by the public related to the perceived high use of plastic packaging and labeling for recreational marijuana and how that would be recycled.
After the final comments come in Sunday, the Office of Marijuana Policy will provisionally adopt the rules and submit them to the executive director of the Legislative Council. From there the rules go to the Office of Policy and Legal Analysis for review.
The Legislative Council — composed of 10 legislative leaders — must agree to accept the rules as a late-filed submission, Heidrich said. The Revisor of Statutes will then generate a resolve that authorizes the Office of Marijuana Policy to proceed with the rulemaking. At that point the proposed rules are considered a bill, he said.
The Legislature will decide which committee will review the rules, but it’s likely to be the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, he said. The committee will hold a public hearing, followed by a work session to accept or reject the rules or accept them with modifications.
“All that could happen rapidly,” Heidrich said. He could not predict an amount of time for those reviews.
Once the Legislature votes to enact the bill, it will go to the governor. If approved it would take effect 90 days after the session adjourns.
The marijuana office licenses both medical and adult-use marijuana. It also works on the relationships with municipalities that opt in to having recreational marijuana operations. There are at least 15 so far, including Portland and South Portland, he said.
If the recreational regulation is approved, companies selling marijuana must provide an operations plan that the office could approve conditionally. However, sellers must also have a relationship with one or more municipalities before the Office of Marijuana Policy can grant them an active license.
Patricia Rosi, CEO of the Wellness Connection of Maine, which has four medical marijuana dispensaries in Maine, said it will cost her about the same for licenses and other approvals for recreational marijuana as it now does for medical marijuana.
“But with adult-use marijuana, we need to fill out all of the applications again and there is added cost to that,” she said. “I wish there was some consideration given that we already have a medical marijuana business.”
She said the adult-use market size is projected at $250 million to $300 million, far larger than the market for medical marijuana.
Heidrich said the recreational and medical programs require different licenses and have different regulations with different tiers of sales. The recreational tiers are related to the size of the facility and whether the plants are sold individually or under a canopy of multiple plants.
He said the state has successfully negotiated a contract with Bio-Tech Medical Software Inc. of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to deploy Bio-Tech’s BioTrackTHC cloud-based software to track marijuana in the state from seed to sale.
The product has barcode-based tags to track the growth and distribution of marijuana and marijuana products throughout Maine.