AUGUSTA, Maine — Enactment votes on a bill that would delay portions of Maine’s new recreational marijuana law could come early next week after a unanimous committee vote in favor of the bill Thursday.
The Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee voted 12-0 in favor of LD 88, with amendments, after hours of testimony and deliberations devoted to the issue this week.
The bill does not change the date that the use and possession of marijuana will be legal in Maine — Jan. 30 — but extends the window for lawmakers and the executive branch to develop rules around a range of issues associated with the sale and regulation of pot.
The bill, which was agreed upon by Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon and Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau, was amended by the committee to prohibit pot use while operating a motor vehicle and to restrict consumption in some scenarios on private property.
The citizen-initiated legislation approved by voters in November called for implementation of the retail sales, taxation and licensing systems by October; the bill preliminarily approved on Thursday extends that by three months to Feb. 1, 2018. That will require a public rulemaking process by the executive branch — likely either the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry or the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages & Lottery Operations — which will include public hearings and ultimately, final approval by the Legislature.
In considering the bill this week, lawmakers began debates on a spectrum of issues in the bill, ranging from definitions of marijuana in an era of concentrates and edible forms of the substance to how to test drivers who are believed to be impaired as a result of marijuana use. Those issues and others will be the center of what promises to be months of legislative debate this year as lawmakers consider numerous marijuana-related bills.
To guide the debate, the Legislature on Thursday created a temporary joint select committee until the end of the 128th Legislature. The measure passed 114-28 in the House and unanimously in the Senate.
It was clear from this week’s committee proceedings that lawmakers have a range of concerns with how to implement marijuana legalization responsibly. Those issues will wait until later.
“I don’t want to make this so overly complicated that we can’t go anywhere with this bill,” said Rep. Thomas Longstaff, D-Waterville. “The sorts of things we’re talking about now could be resolved in the substantive rules that go along with this legislation. We don’t have to specify every detail.”
LD 88 will likely go to the full Legislature for consideration by next week. To go into effect before Jan. 30, it will need to be passed as emergency legislation, which requires two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate.