AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Legislature endorsed a plan to regulate the state’s new recreational marijuana market Monday, but it doesn’t have enough support to withstand an expected veto from Gov. Paul LePage.
All of that threatens to kick the debate around Maine’s voter-approved legalization law into next year after a special legislative committee worked for months on a complex bill to regulate the industry that has fallen victim to a messy split — even among marijuana advocates.
It passed in both chambers Monday and went to the Republican governor’s desk, but it fell short of the two-thirds threshold in the Maine House of Representatives needed to override an expected veto that Republicans hinted at Monday, leaving the system in limbo.
The bill from the committee would set up a state licensing system for cultivators, stores, marijuana product manufacturers and testers. It also establishes a 10 percent sales tax and an excise tax based on weight for wholesale sales between growers and sellers.
Mainers can already grow and possess recreational marijuana, but there’s no way to legally purchase it outside of the state’s medical marijuana system. The commercial part of the voter-approved legalization bill has been delayed until early 2018.
Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, who co-chairs the committee overseeing marijuana legalization implementation that crafted the bill over the summer, said on the Senate floor that a vote against the bill would be a vote for “chaos” that would put “oxygen onto the fire of the black market.”
But House Republicans showed the bill’s tough road to passage Monday, with 46 voting against it. Rep. Patrick Corey, R-Windham, a member of the marijuana committee, noted that its fiscal estimate says the program won’t bring in enough short-term revenue to cover costs.
Earlier in the day, the House voted down a proposal from LePage to extend an existing moratorium on marijuana sales to delay commercial marijuana sales until 2019. LePage opposes recreational marijuana legalization and hasn’t worked with legislators on implementing the law.
House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said a delay would allow the Legislature to return for the 2018 session starting in January and work “as a body” to “create a consensus bill.”
For marijuana businesses to start under the committee’s bill, cities and towns would have to act to allow them. The ones that do would get 5 percent of the state’s revenue. That opt-in provision divided two pro-legalization groups that warred on the referendum before agreeing to work together in 2015.
The Marijuana Policy Project, the national group that led the referendum bid, supports the committee’s bill. Legalize Maine, a group of medical marijuana advocates that wrote the voter-approved law, opposes the bill because of the opt-in provision.
Marijuana opponents backed the moratorium, with Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a national group that led opposition to the referendum, saying last week that while they support the opt-in provisions, more must be done to shield young Mainers from marijuana’s negative effects.
David Boyer, who ran the Maine campaign for the Marijuana Policy Project, said delaying the law would put Maine behind Massachusetts — which legalized marijuana in 2016 alongside Maine, but is set to begin commercial sales in summer 2018 — and risk losing tourism.
“So we should give ourselves a little room to not get it perfect, but not let perfect be the enemy of good,” he said.