AUGUSTA, Maine — A citizen-led effort to legalize recreational marijuana is on track to take effect Jan. 30 but lawmakers are considering a proposal to delay it while changes are considered.
On Saturday, Gov. Paul LePage signed a proclamation that made passage of the referendum official, which triggered a 30-day timeframe for pot to be legal on Jan. 30. However, LePage and other lawmakers, including Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau, harbor reservations about whether the initiative is ready to go into law.
LePage said Tuesday during a radio appearance on WVOM that he favors delaying implementation of the law while multiple issues are addressed but that the decision is not his to make. Thibodeau told the Bangor Daily News on Tuesday that he is in talks with other lawmakers about a one-year moratorium.
“Maine voters passed it but we need to put some good public policy behind the implementation,” said Thibodeau. “I think the reasonable thing to do is very much like Massachusetts has already done, which is implement a moratorium with a date certain for implementation.”
Among the issues cited by LePage and Thibodeau are how to implement the 10 percent sales tax in the law, where the money for state oversight will come from and how to test drivers for marijuana intoxication.
On Friday, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill that didn’t delay legalized marijuana but put off a deadline for the state to develop an oversight system for retail sales into 2018.
A marijuana legalization bill passed by Maine voters by a razor-thin margin in November already gives state government nine months to develop and implement rules for regulating the cultivation, manufacture, sale and testing of marijuana and marijuana products. David Boyer, who directed the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, said it makes little sense to implement a moratorium when lawmakers already have time to do their work.
“Let’s get to work on it and if in seven or eight months it looks like we’re not going to meet that deadline, let’s cross that bridge then,” said Boyer. “We want to give a lot of latitude to regulators to make sure this is the best law possible but to say we need more time before we start is troublesome. … Massachusetts just gave us a six-month head start on New England sales. That’s an opportunity for us. We should work diligently to give adults a legal place to purchase marijuana.”
LePage’s and Thibodeau’s reservations go beyond retail sales. Among other issues, they worry that the law as written has flaws that, for example, would allow minors to possess some marijuana products. Their calls for a moratorium echo similar sentiments from marijuana opponents last week.
Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon of Freeport has said she has reservations about implementing a moratorium until she has more discussions about it with Thibodeau and others.