Progress with Maine’s marijuana law has slowed to a crawl and it’s easy to get the important details hazy. Unless you were completely couch-locked all month, here’s a quick refresher of cannabis law in Maine and what the heck is up.
A bipartisan committee spent months last year working on a veto-proof rewrite of the Maine Marijuana Legalization Act that would have set up the retail market. It’s most notable additions were a provision allowing towns to “opt in” to marijuana and a 10 percent tax on recreational sales. Cannabis entrepreneurs were happy that the Department of Agriculture was written in as the regulatory agency instead of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, but there’s was a concern that LePage would work with his colleagues in the DOA to continue to kick the can further down the road than he already has. The concerns were valid— LePage vetoed the bill in November and House Republicans, led by Leader Ken Fredette, sustained his veto. They managed to impose a moratorium on the legislation until February 1.
Though the moratorium on recreational sales has by now expired, it’s still not legal to buy and sell cannabis because the framework for licensing still isn't in place. Meanwhile, lawmakers are determined to extend the moratorium until they can come to a consensus on how the product should be taxed, and where marijuana companies are allowed to do business. The Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee proposed extending the moratorium until May 1, but LePage and House Republicans want it to last even longer — until January 1, 2019.
Don’t expect any kush clubs or local marijuana cafes anytime soon either. On January 16, the Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee capitulated to LePage’s wishes and voted 5-1 to delay the role out of marijuana social clubs until 2023. They hope this will make it easier for the more hardline anti-marijuana lawmakers to pass the eventual rewrite of the original bill allowing regulated sales to adults 21 and over.
LePage might be easier to work with now that marijuana social clubs are put on hold, as one of the biggest concerns he has with them is the potential for patrons of those clubs to drive while under the influence. Overall, LePage has stated that he’s anti-legalization because he believes it will send a bad message to minors and make it easier for them to get their hands on the plant. He’s also concerned with the fact that the federal government still consider cannabis illegal and the Drug Enforcement Agency classifies it as a Schedule 1 drug.
In January, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that he was reversing the Obama-era policy that prohibited the Drug Enforcement Agency from cracking down on marijuana offenses in states that have made it legal. It's unclear how this will affect Maine.
Most people in the cannabis industry don’t expect to launch retail operations anytime soon. But in certain towns, they’re not prohibited from applying for state licenses, although the regulatory framework hasn’t been approved of yet.
But in about 20 other Maine towns — including South Portland, Augusta, Freeport, Gardiner and Windham — lawmakers are considering extending the moratorium themselves within their town lines. Other towns like Bangor, Brewer, Farmington, Gray, Portland, Westbrook, and Wells have already passed moratoriums until July 31. And city councilors in Skowhegan, Westbrook, and Oakland are considering becoming “dry towns,” implementing an outright ban on marijuana stores and production facilities.
The next work session around the latest legislative rewrite, LD 1719 – An Act To Implement a Regulatory Structure for Adult Use Marijuana, takes place on Friday, February 2.
For now, Mainers looking for a recreational cannabis experience will have to turn to what they’re used to. The black market.