Last week, Maine’s Governor Paul LePage vetoed a bill to implement rules for recreational marijuana sales that took legislators nine months to put together. He explained that after speaking to Jeff Sessions, the U.S. attorney general, that vetoing the bill was the right move considering that marijuana is still illegal federally and listed as a Schedule 1 drug.
Maine’s House had a chance to overturn his veto but needed to get a 2/3 vote in favor of overturning LePage’s decision. That did not happen, and so there is a moratorium on recreational marijuana sales that extends to February 1st of next year and could easily be extended beyond that. Marijuana consumption is nothing new. What have these politicians been missing that they can justify not adhering to the will of the people?
AUGUSTA — The Maine House voted Monday to sustain Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill that would create the legal framework for retail sales of recreational marijuana.
The bill was the result of more than nine months of work by a special committee tasked with implementing the law that voters narrowly approved last November, putting Maine among the eight states and the District of Columbia that had legalized the adult use of marijuana. The 74-62 vote Monday fell 17 votes short of the two-thirds margin required to overturn LePage’s veto.
The path forward for the ballot-box law remains unclear, with the current moratorium on recreational sales expiring Feb. 1. The Legislature reconvenes in January and could pass legislation then, but it’s uncertain whether the political dynamic will change enough in the next two months for an implementation law to be passed or the moratorium to be extended. If neither occurs, the ballot box law would take effect, a prospect that some lawmakers find alarming.
“I feel like we legalized gasoline, but not gas stations,” said Rep. Martin Grohman, a Biddeford independent.
Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, co-chairman of the special legislative committee that wrote the implementation bill, is unsure what the next steps will be.
“You know, 74-62 is a good victory in a basketball game, but it’s not enough to overcome a veto,” Katz said after the House vote. “We will regroup and we will sit around and try to figure out where the heck we go from here, and I hope somebody has some bright ideas because right now I don’t have any.”
Katz said the bill as passed by the 17-member Special Committee on Marijuana Implementation, which remains an active committee, was crafted with the state’s voters in mind.
“We recognize that almost half the people of the state of Maine voted against this,” Katz said. “So at every turn we made a conscious effort to keep this bill as conservative as possible.”
Among its provisions, the bill required those licensed to sell recreational marijuana to be Maine residents and mandated that companies set up to produce commercial marijuana have majority Maine ownership; prohibited sales via the internet or at drive-thru windows; and set up a tax structure that included money to increase the number of drug recognition officers in Maine law enforcement, an effort meant to prevent and prosecute illegal impaired driving.
By failing to pass legislation, “we are driving people to the illegal dealer on the street corner,” Katz said.
Although Maine was among the first states to pass a medical marijuana law, the drug remains illegal at the federal level, a key reason that LePage cited in vetoing the recreational regulation measure, which passed the Legislature in October with bipartisan support.
In his veto letter, LePage also said the bill sets unrealistic time lines for launching the market, fails to address shortcomings in the medical marijuana program, creates a confusing regulatory system, and might not generate enough tax revenue to cover the cost of market implementation or regulation. In short, he dismissed the bill as a risky, inconsistent, expensive rush job.
While campaigning for re-election in 2014, LePage said that if voters approved legal marijuana he would support that decision. But he backed away from that in his veto letter, writing, “Until I clearly understand how the federal government intends to treat states that seek to legalize marijuana, I cannot in good conscience support any scheme in state law to implement expansion of legal marijuana in Maine.”