AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Legislature’s roadmap for implementing marijuana legalization took shape on Wednesday, with legislative leaders striking deals to delay most of the law until 2018 and form a committee to consider bills on the subject.
The moratorium bill — backed by Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, and House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport — roiled pro-marijuana forces, who vowed to fight it. The delaying maneuver could face a hurdle to passage because of a change in personal use provisions.
Legalization was narrowly approved by Maine voters in November 2016. As written, it will allow adults to possess 2.5 ounces of marijuana at January’s end, giving the state until October’s end to craft rules regulating the new market, such as licensing sellers and cultivators.
Most of that would be pushed back to February 2018 under the moratorium, which appeared in a bill sponsored by Rep. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth. It affects the rulemaking process but allows adults to possess marijuana after the law takes effect on Jan. 30.
The pro-legalization side has argued that a moratorium is unnecessary, because there’s already one in the voter-approved law. But legalization opponents have called for one citing the complexity of the issue — an idea backed by Gov. Paul LePage.
On Wednesday, David Boyer, the Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project who managed the legalization campaign, said lawmakers should begin the process, and if more time is needed, they can “cross that bridge when we get there.”
“But to do it before we’ve even started, it stinks, it’s lame, and it doesn’t make sense,” he said.
Boyer endorsed another agreement between Thibodeau and Gideon, who said Wednesday that they’ll form a 17-member joint select committee to consider marijuana bills, streamlining a normal process that would send more than 50 proposals to different committees for review.
Their proposed moratorium may have little practical impact: Rules must be approved by the Legislature, which won’t be in session between June and January 2018.
Gideon and Thibodeau defended the moratorium on Wednesday, with the Democrat saying they “want to make sure we get it right” and “we absolutely intend to honor” the referendum.
But their bill, which faces a public hearing before the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs committee on Tuesday, would make a slight change that could rankle some, striking a provision saying people can consume marijuana in a “nonpublic place,” replacing it with “a private residence,” technically prohibiting use in a backyard.
Thibodeau said that was intended to give the Legislature time to consider the law’s impact on constituencies including cities, towns and the hospitality industry.
“All these things deserve consideration and to be discussed in a public forum and some reasonable guidelines set forth,” he said.
Sen. Mark Dion, D-Portland, a lawyer and former sheriff who campaigned for legalization, said a moratorium on the retail side is “well worth the discussion” if it results in better policy. But he had concerns about the private residence change, saying voters approved personal use provisions and lawmakers shouldn’t “edit them.”
“I think what the voters wanted for us to work on the market issues and that’s what we need to do,” Dion said.
BDN writer Christopher Cousins contributed to this report.