BANGOR, Maine — City government should be Bangor’s sole source of retail marijuana when it becomes legal, City Council Chairman Joe Baldacci says.
Baldacci outlined his position to a rather surprised council during a workshop on Monday. Local government is best positioned to protect city youth and enforce pot laws while using sale proceeds to benefit Bangor, he said.
“I would prefer that the money stay in local government pockets to fund things like schools and roads and police and fire,” Baldacci said Tuesday. “Most people think of it as a good idea.”
“Somebody is going to do this,” Baldacci added, referring to the retail marijuana sales. “Cities in general have been cut by state and federal government reductions in funding. The money’s got to come from somewhere.”
Baldacci’s idea, however, could ultimately threaten the city’s federal funding, City Manager Cathy Conlow and Assistant City Manager Michael Crooker said during the workshop. The city gets about $30 million annually in federal law enforcement and other grants that contractually require the city to follow federal law. Under federal law, they said, marijuana remains illegal.
The federal government regulates drugs through the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) (21 U.S.C. § 811), which does not recognize the difference between medical and recreational use of cannabis, despite medical marijuana laws in 44 states, including Maine. The laws generally apply only to those who possess, cultivate or distribute marijuana, according to Americans For Safe Access, a nationwide advocacy group that favors medicinal pot usage and research.
Under the CSA, marijuana remains a Schedule I drug, viewed by the federal government as highly addictive and of no medical value. Doctors may not “prescribe” cannabis for medical use under federal law, though they can “recommend” its use under the First Amendment, according to AFSA.
City officials aren’t yet certain how the Trump administration will respond to states starting to legalize retail marijuana and marijuana social clubs, Conlow said.
Federal law generally supersedes state law. Several federal agencies issued guidelines and policy memorandums in 2016 to manage the conflict between federal and state laws as they pertain to medical marijuana. The Department of Justice under President Obama issued a memo to prosecutors making it clear that prosecuting state legal medical marijuana cases was not a priority, according to AFSA.
But a White House spokesman said in February that the Trump administration may ramp up enforcement of federal laws against recreational marijuana use.
“I do believe you’ll see greater enforcement of it,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said at a news conference on Feb. 23. “Because again there’s a big difference between the medical use … that’s very different than the recreational use, which is something the Department of Justice will be further looking into.”
On Monday night, the city council majority seemed to agree that Bangor should not become a $30 million test case.
Baldacci remains undeterred. Municipal and state governments once ran liquor stores, he said, and several states allow medicinal marijuana despite the federal ban. He hopes to revisit the issue as the council continues to map its position on the issue.
The council voted unanimously on Nov. 1 to enact a six-month ban on retail marijuana sales. Sales would have become legal with Maine’s voter-approved law, but Gov. Paul LePage signed a moratorium in January to delay provisions of the law until February 2018. Possessing and growing marijuana for recreational use now is legal under Maine law, but buying or selling it is not, yet. Medical marijuana policy hasn’t changed.
At Monday’s workshop, councilors seemed to favor allowing retail marijuana sales in Bangor while banning social clubs. They will hold another workshop where city public safety, social service and health administrators will advise them, Baldacci said. No date has been set.