AUGUSTA, Maine — Opponents of the marijuana legalization initiative that passed narrowly on Maine’s November ballot called Thursday on the Legislature to delay the law’s implementation, leading to charges of obstructionism from legalization backers.
The call came a day after lawmakers in Massachusetts — one of four states to vote to legalize marijuana this year — passed a surprise six-month moratorium on its law, angering pro-marijuana forces there.
Maine’s law will take effect in January and make it legal for adults 21 and older to possess 2.5 ounces of marijuana. The state will have nine months to develop rules to regulate a new market for recreational marijuana sales, which will be taxed at 10 percent.
Implementation of the law will be a signature issue for the Legislature when it returns to work next week for a session lasting through June. Legalization passed by just over 4,000 votes in November and survived a recount requested by Mainers Protecting Our Youth and Communities, the coalition of health, law enforcement and other groups that ran the anti-legalization campaign.
On Thursday, the coalition issued a statement urging lawmakers to adopt a moratorium similar to the one in Massachusetts, saying there are “many issues to grapple with when it comes to Question 1, particularly those concerning public health and the health of Maine youth” and that it may take two years to flesh out details.
“The reality is that our state and local systems are simply not prepared to regulate marijuana in a way that would truly protect our youth,” said Scott Gagnon, a prevention specialist who serves as a coalition spokesman, in a statement.
But backers of the referendum said they’d oppose a moratorium. David Boyer, the Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project who managed the winning campaign, called the timeframe “achievable” for lawmakers and said opponents were trying to erect “roadblocks.”
Paul McCarrier, president of Legalize Maine, a group that drafted the legalization bill, called it “an insult to the Maine voters and spirit of the Maine Constitution” indicating that opponents have “no interest in working with the advocates for a better cannabis policy and continue to be obstructionist.”
Gov. Paul LePage, who opposed legalization, called for a delay in implementation in November and Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, supports a one-year moratorium.
But it’s likely to run into opposition from Democrats, with House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, “not prepared to endorse a moratorium without further discussion,” according to spokeswoman Mary-Erin Casale.
With or without a delay, setting rules for implementation and tweaking law around the new recreational program will be one of the biggest challenges for the new Legislature.
Attorney General Janet Mills has submitted legislation to create a “Cannabis Advisory Commission” and Thibodeau said Wednesday that he supports a new joint select legislative committee to tackle recreational marijuana in the new year.
“That is a big, big change in the culture of our state and what’s acceptable, what isn’t,” he said.