Legal weed is finally coming to Maine. After a year and a half of legislative bickering, gubernatorial vetoes, and general stagnation, Pine Tree State lawmakers overrode Governor Paul LePage's cannabis opposition Wednesday, passing a comprehensive set of regulations for an adult-use marijuana industry.
In response to yet another gubernatorial veto postponing cannabis regulations last week, state legislators voted yesterday by a margin of 28-6 and 109-39, in the Senate and House respectively, to dismiss Gov. LePage's decision.
Maine residents first voted to legalize adult-use cannabis in November 2016, at the same time as Massachusetts and California. But while the Golden State has already licensed over 6,000 ganjapreneurs to operate openly, the green rush has been moving significantly slower on the East Coast. As soon as voters approved the 2016 measure, Maine lawmakers immediately got started rewriting the ballot question's underlying regulations.
Even once state representatives came to an agreement on things like the number of personal plants residents should be able to grow and how tax revenue should be disseminated, Governor LePage's prohibitionist viewpoints capsized the entire endeavor, with a veto last November restarting the entire regulatory process.
Responding to the governor's call for stricter regulations and increased study into the effects of legalization, Pine Tree State legislators came back to the drawing board last month with a new set of legal weed rules that appeared to be on par with LePage's requests. Still, Gov. LePage once again denied the deal, vetoing the cannabis industry bill last week.
This time, though, lawmakers did not let LePage's reefer madness position get in the way of the will of Maine residents, and returned to the State House on Wednesday to override the Governor's veto.
Thanks to LePage's original veto last year and the bipartisan negotiations that followed, the state's impending cannabis market will be significantly more restrictive than Maine voters originally approved, with a ban on social use clubs and a home grow cap of three plants per person — reduced from six plants in the first set of failed regulations.
"The [voter-approved] marijuana legalization act allows for things like internet sales, home delivery, and drive-up windows, which we felt clearly were not in anyone's best interest," State Sen. Roger Katz told the Portland Press-Herald last week. "Our bill, which is really a bipartisan effort, provides far greater safeguards to keep this out of the hands of kids, far better provisions for appropriate labeling and product warnings, and far more funding for law enforcement and public health education than the original bill."
Now that the regulatory legislation has been turned into law, Maine will need to hire a workforce to oversee and institute the approved policies. Continuing that process, Maine's Department of Administrative and Financial Services will be responsible for writing increasingly specific rules for licensing, inspection, and more. The state legislature will once again need to approve those rules early next year.
After 18 months of inaction and threats that the entirety of Maine's legal weed structure would collapse into rubble before it was even constructed, the latest regulatory approval is a huge victory for Pine Tree State legal weed advocates, even if regulations will end up more conservative than originally planned.
"Ultimately, we're glad that the Legislature is moving towards a regulated marketplace," David Boyer, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told the Portland Press-Herald. "We are approaching two years since Maine voters passed this, and adults in Maine deserve a place to purchase marijuana legally."
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If the regulatory process continues as planned, Maine could see recreational dispensaries open as soon as Spring 2019.
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