Another attempt to implement a sales and regulation system for recreational marijuana in Maine is headed to the Legislature with significant changes designed to attract more support.
The Legislature’s Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee voted 16-1 Friday in favor of a broad bill that has been under stop-and-go development since early last year. The lone vote against the bill was cast by Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop.
The bill, which must gain support from a Legislature that has so far rejected all attempts at creating a sales and regulatory system, would create a combined 20 percent sales and excise tax and would halve the number of plants Mainers can grow for personal use from six flowering plants to three.
It’s been a whirlwind process so far. Recreational marijuana was legalized in in Maine November of 2016 but the Legislature has been attempting to change the citizen-initiated law ever since. Early last year, the Legislature delayed implementation of the sales and regulation system from December of 2017, as required in the referendum law, to February of this year to give itself more time to negotiate rules. In January, the Legislature tried to buy itself more time with a bill to extend the implementation deadline from this month to April, but the bill died amid complaints that April is too soon.
Meanwhile, in October the Legislature approved the bill that had been worked on for months, but Gov. Paul LePage vetoed it and that veto was sustained in the House of Representatives.
The failure of that bill technically puts the state in violation of current law when it comes to having a sales system in place, though setting up the executive branch for sales and regulation will be an extended process that doesn’t begin until legislative intent is clear.
Mainers can already grow and possess recreational marijuana but without legislative action, there’s no way to legally sell or purchase it outside of the state’s medical marijuana system.
Also within the provisions recommended by the committee Thursday is the elimination of marijuana social clubs and revenue sharing with towns, as well as a removal of a cap on commercial growing licenses.
LePage and other opponents have argued there is uncertainty from federal law enforcement agencies, which has been stoked by President Donald Trump’s administration reversing an Obama-era policy of de-prioritizing marijuana in the fight against drugs. Marijuana use or possession remains illegal in federal law but several states have legalized it for recreational and medical use.
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