December 18, 2017
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LePage vetoes bill to regulate marijuana sales in Maine

By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff
Updated:
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Don Christen of Starks smokes marijuana outside the Somerset County Courthouse during the 26th annual Patriot's Day Rally smoke-in, which he organizes every year to educate and bring awareness to the benefits of marijuana.

Gov. Paul LePage said Friday that he has vetoed a bill to tax and regulate recreational marijuana, which the Legislature sent him Oct. 23 with fragile support.

LD 1650 was written by a special legislative committee. LePage said the bill conflicts with federal law, fails to account adequately for Maine’s existing medical marijuana industry and sets “unrealistic timelines.”

“There have been serious negative effects of legalization in other states — effects that should not be repeated in Maine,” LePage wrote in his veto letter, adding that “we need assurances that a change in policy or administration at the federal level will not nullify” public and private investments in the industry.

He also said the recreational marijuana bill fails to align with existing medical marijuana law, particularly because sales tax on medical pot would be lower.

“The two programs must be considered together,” wrote LePage.

The bill would set up a state licensing system for cultivators, stores, marijuana product manufacturers and testers. It establishes a 10 percent sales tax and an excise tax based on weight for wholesale sales between growers and sellers and requires municipalities to opt in to allowing retail establishments.

Mainers can already grow and possess recreational marijuana and that won’t change as a result of the bill pending in the Legislature, but there’s no way to legally sell or 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. Failure of the current bill would mean selling marijuana for recreational purposes would remain illegal until then, though there is scant time for the executive branch to adopt rules and gain legislative approval under that deadline.

LePage and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, introduced a bid Oct. 23 to extend the existing moratorium on marijuana sales until 2019 but it failed in the House. That idea will undoubtedly be reconsidered by some on Monday afternoon, when the Legislature is scheduled to convene to consider the veto.

The original bill enacted by voters in a November 2016 referendum called for the sales and regulation system to be set up by the end of this year.

David Boyer, Maine political director of the Marijuana Policy project, who was the campaign manager for the referendum, called the veto “ill-advised.”

“Instead of a regulated and controlled system of marijuana cultivation and sales, Maine will continue to support the unregulated market,” said Boyer in a written statement.

Scott Gagnon, chairman of Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine, said he was “grateful for the governor’s veto of this flawed bill,” which he said doesn’t go far enough to protect youth and communities. Gagnon helped spearhead the failed campaign against legalization in 2016.

The bill that passed Oct. 23 did not meet the two-thirds majority threshold required to override a veto. The vote was 22-9 in the Senate, which met the threshold but with four absent, and 81-50 in the House. With everyone present, an override needs 24 votes in the Senate and 101 in the House.

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