Recreational Marijuana is new to New England. Along with Massachusetts voters narrowly approved recreational cannabis in Maine as well. Those same voters are now offering to advise Maine on how to implement its rules and some outside experience is chiming in as well. The debate of all the people looking to advise Maine on its recreational marijuana policies shows just how conflicted the state is on legalizing the controversial plant. Do you have any advice for Maine?
A dozen groups respond to the state’s request for best practice suggestions as it crafts the state’s first recreational marijuana regulations.
When Maine solicited advice on how to set up its new recreational cannabis market, about a dozen groups from all over the country, from national marijuana consulting firms to the manager of a small Maine town, chimed in: Ban marijuana social clubs, despite the voters’ will. Discourage “drug warrior” cops. Tax marijuana enough to discourage youth use, but keep it competitive with street prices
Responses released recently show opinions that varied widely, from those who want to encourage this new industry to those who would rather undo the results of the November referendum that legalized recreational cannabis use. Some want to make sure the state can capitalize on the benefits of adult-use cannabis, like decreased opioid use, while others sought to avoid other states’ mistakes on the road to legalization.
“Developing and implementing voter-mandated marijuana policy is a high-profile venture for any government,” wrote Andrew Freedman, who was Colorado’s first director of marijuana coordination before forming Freedman & Koski, one of the national consulting firms that responded to Maine’s request for best-practice information. “This policy arena remains very divisive and full of uncertainty.”
The state released a draft of its omnibus rules intended to regulate Maine’s nascent marijuana industry on Sept. 11. Hearings on the rules are scheduled for later this month and legislators will reconvene in October to vote on the final version of an omnibus bill.
But before the draft was released, the state sought input on best practices – ideas that it could draw from as it crafts the regulations overseeing the legal, recreational marijuana industry.
During legislative testimony in Augusta in July, Freedman shared some of the lessons he has learned in Colorado. For example, he talked of regulatory missteps, like lax home-grow rules that he believed led to black market diversion, which he urged Maine to avoid.
But Freedman & Koski didn’t offer a lot of specific counsel in its written response for best practices, instead laying out how other states handle various areas of cannabis regulation, ranging from impaired driving enforcement to product safety and potency testing to licensing, and how it would decide which of these different approaches was best for Maine if it was paid to do so.
It offered a few hints, however. It warned against the unreliability of a marijuana sales tax. In many legalized states, the price of marijuana falls as more companies start to legally cultivate it. As price fluctuates, a sales tax becomes an unreliable source of revenue for a state, unlike taxes based on weight or on quantity. Maine voters approved a 10 percent sales tax, but in the omnibus draft, officials suggest a 20 percent tax.
Freedman & Koski also calls for integrating medical and adult-use marijuana and harmonizing the regulations governing these two consumer groups to prevent large grows outside of a closed-loop, seed-to-sale regulatory system. However, it also calls for finding ways for the medical growers to merge into the licensed system to avoid alienating a “fairly strong” patient and caregiver community.