Drugs

Legal Marijuana Runs Right Over Maine's Obstructionist Tea Party Governor

The legislature voted to override the veto.

Photo Credit: Maine Dept. of Education

Paul LePage, Maine's irascible Tea Party Republican governor, is no friend of marijuana. He opposed the state's successful 2016 marijuana legalization initiative, and, once it won, vetoed the legislature's bill to implement the will of the voters. That was last year.

That left the state with pot possession and personal cultivation legal, but no way to buy or sell legal marijuana. This year, the legislature once again passed a bill to implement the initiative's taxed and regulated sales provisions, LD 1719. It even incorporated some of LePage's previous criticisms, resulting in a bill more restrictive than what voters approved.

Again, LePage vetoed the bill. But this time, the legislature had had enough. On Wednesday, the House voted 109-39 and the Senate voted 28-6 to override LePage's veto, poking a thumb in the governor's eye and setting the state on a path to the legal sale and production of recreational marijuana some 18 months after voters approved it.

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The bill creates the rules for licensing and regulating marijuana producers, processors, and retail establishments and sets the tax rates for adult-use marijuana. But as a sop to LePage and other foes, it does not allow for social use, meaning buyers will be limited to using it at home (if the landlord agrees), and lawmakers also halved the number of plants people can grow, from six to three.

While the bill doesn't cap the number of cultivation licenses or the amount of weed that can be grown in the state, creating fears that a glut of pot will drive out all but the most deep-pocketed growers, it does contain a provision granting business licenses only to Maine residents for the first three years.

Pot shops aren't going to pop up overnight, either. Now that the bill has become law, state regulators will have to develop rules and regulations for the industry, which in turn will have to be approved by the legislature. It may be the spring of 2019 before Mainers can finally walk into a shop and buy their legal weed.

Still, the veto override is a major step on Maine's path to legal taxed and regulated marijuana sales.

"After a long and unnecessary delay, the decision by Maine voters to regulate marijuana for adults will finally be respected," said Matthew Schweich, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project and campaign director for the 2016 Maine legalization ballot initiative campaign. "While this bill is imperfect, its overall effect is implementation of the legalization policy that Maine voters approved at the ballot box a year and a half ago."

Maine was one of four states where voters passed legalization initiatives in 2016, and it will be the last of the four to get sales up and running. California and Nevada have already implemented their programs, and Massachusetts should see retail sales begin next month.

"With his veto overridden, the governor should cease his obstructionist tactics so that Maine does not fall further behind Massachusetts in establishing a system for legal and regulated marijuana sales," Schweich added.

Nine states and the District of Columbia have so far legalized marijuana for adults. While at least 20 states will or have considered legalization bills this year, the most likely prospect for the next legal marijuana state is Michigan, where voters will have their say in November. In the meantime, Maine will be busy getting its pot shop regulations ship-shape and waving goodbye to Gov. LePage in the rearview mirror.

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Phillip Smith has been a drug policy journalist for the past two decades. Smith is currently a senior writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute