After years of delay, Maine lawmakers are on the verge of enacting rules for the sale of recreational marijuana. The rules they are considering, which were drafted by the state’s Office of Marijuana Policy, meet important safety and community engagement standards and deserve legislative support.
In 2016, Maine voters approved legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use. Since then, lawmakers, often hampered by vetoes from former Gov. Paul LePage, have failed to enact the rules needed to turn the referendum vote into reality. Last year, lawmakers overrode a veto from LePage, to put in place rules for adult marijuana use. But action on rules for retail sales of marijuana faltered.
The rules now under consideration build on the work of several groups that sought to write rules for legal, retail marijuana sales for recreational use. Maine already allows medical marijuana sales. Still, the Office of Marijuana Policy, which was established in February, deserves credit for working quickly in the past few months to finalize the proposed rules.
A legislative committee previously spent the better part of a year drafting a set of regulations that were ultimately rejected by lawmakers in 2017 after a veto from LePage. That group’s proposed regulations focused on four priorities that remain valid today.
The first is to fulfill the will of Maine voters. Many in the State House, and beyond, opposed the legalization referendum. The Bangor Daily News editorial board did as well. But, voters passed it and regulations for retail sales are long overdue.
The second is to ensure that regulations are strict to ensure the safety of Maine communities and children. This is accomplished through clear and precise definitions around what products can be sold and how they must be labeled. It is also addressed with limits on retail marijuana facilities near schools, daycares and churches, and a ban on social clubs.
A third priority — empowering communities — is addressed by allowing municipalities to opt-in to allowing marijuana retail facilities. If a community opts in, the proposed rules also give it the ability to zone where the facilities can locate and to set more stringent regulations than what the state adopts.
The fourth priority is to maximize state revenue. The proposed tax rate of 20 percent is below what is charged in western states, but is similar to Massachusetts’ levy. This is the highest tax rate lawmakers have considered, so this is an improvement in terms of ensuring that Maine benefits from the eventual retail market. Under existing law, some of the tax revenue would support law enforcement training and public health and safety programs related to marijuana use.
A companion bill, LD 335, which also remains under consideration in the Legislature’s final days, proposed to direct 25 percent of the sales and excise taxes collected by the state from retail marijuana sales to communities that host the shops. An amendment adopted in House would drop the revenue sharing rate to 12 percent. Directing some of the tax revenue from marijuana sales to communities where those sales happen makes great sense.
One substantial hangup remains. The proposed rules limit retail marijuana sales licenses to businesses owned by Maine residents. We appreciate the inclination to favor Maine-owned businesses, but such a restriction may violate interstate commerce rules. One vendor, Wellness Connection of Maine, which owns four of the state’s eight medical marijuana dispensaries, has already threatened to sue if the provision remains in the rules.
Eliminating this requirement could avoid legal battles down the road.
Rules for a retail marijuana market in Maine are overdue. These rules meet important standards and should move forward.