Maine plans to create a new division of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency tasked with regulatory compliance as well as monitoring illegal activity that competes with state-licensed growers, processors and retailers.
Michael Sauschuck, commissioner of the Maine Department of Public Safety, said Monday the four-person unit will be funded annually by $649,000 in cannabis tax and licensing revenue, the Portland Press Herald reports.
Advocates for cannabis say the state should be trying to help businesses comply with regulations, not prosecute them.
“We do not want to see one additional person incarcerated for marijuana,” said Mark Barnett, a Portland coffee shop owner applying for a recreational cannabis license. “It’s a move in the wrong direction and counter to the very idea of legalization.”
Rep. Kent Ackley believes the unit will create what he called a “risk premium” and force the shut down of the black market for fear of prosecution and fines.
“My hope would be that we don’t have to send people to jail to convince the gray market to participate in the regulated marketplace,” Ackley told lawmakers Monday. “Nonetheless, the threat of doing that is an important piece of what we’re trying to accomplish with these four agents.”
Some lawmakers question the decision to spend so much in state funds in pursuit of cannabis crimes amid an ongoing opioid crisis.
“I thought we legalized cannabis,” said Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, co-chair of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. “If we have spent a total of $33.2 million over just the time I’ve been in the legislature, why are we adding more agents for something that we actually legalized?”