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Governor Paul LePage Wants to Delay Recreational Cannabis Sales in Maine Until 2019

With cannabis regulations only days away from a legislative vote, Gov. LePage and State Rep. Ken Fredette have thrown a wrench in the spokes of Maine’s impending legal weed market.

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Lead photo via Flickr user Gage Skidmore

Since Maine residents voted to legalize recreational adult use cannabis in November of 2016, state lawmakers have spent months bickering, back-tracking, and sorting out a legislative committee bill to create a comprehensive system to tax, license, and regulate the cultivation, production, and sale of legal weed in the Pine Tree State. Now, with a full legislative vote on the committee bill planned for Monday, the state’s governor is pushing to delay the start of retail cannabis sales until at least 2019.

According to a new report from the Portland Press Herald, Governor Paul LePage has submitted a bill written by State Representative Ken Fredette that would extend an existing moratorium on recreational cannabis sales through the entirety of 2018. Fredette, Maine’s House Republican Leader, believes lawmakers need more time to look over the legalization regulations before voting.

Under current procedures outside of Fredette’s bill, if the committee legislation does not pass on Monday, Maine’s legal weed program would instead be turned over to the voter-approved nomenclature, with no additional rules or regulations added after the state’s current sales moratorium ends in February, 2018.

“I’m not saying we’re not going to do this, but we need to slow it down and do it right,” Fredette told the Press Herald. “You can’t just plop a bill this big down and say pass it right now or we’ll have chaos. That is not how you make laws here in Maine.”

According to Fredette, the majority of Maine’s state legislators has not yet had a chance to read the entirety of the 76-page legal weed regulations committee bill.

“A moratorium is the least lousy option,” Fredette said. “It gives the Legislature time to come back in regular session in January and debate this bill right. It is a major change for Maine. It shouldn’t be rushed.”

If you’re to listen to Maine’s legal weed advocates and activists, though, another year of legal weed delays would only encourage activity in marijuana’s black market and give up footing in the East Coast’s nascent green rush to nearby states like Massachusetts.

“We hope lawmakers will not let their work be in vain or the will of the people be delayed,” David Boyer, director of the Maine chapter of the Marijuana Policy Project, told the Press Herald. “It’s a shame [Fredette and LePage] are trying to hijack the legislative process by proposing further delays.”

For bi-partisan committee leaders, Republican Sen. Roger Katz and Democrat Rep. Teresa Pierce, who were instrumental in compiling the legal weed legislation, the last minute gubernatorial meddling is equal parts shocking and insulting, especially after Gov. LePage and most state agencies denied requests for participation in the regulatory process.

“The 11th-hour attempt to wreak havoc is obstructionism for no good reason,” Sen. Katz told the Press Herald. “Their unwillingness to problem-solve is irresponsible to the voters, the businesses, and the communities of Maine.”

Whether a regulated retail sales system is implemented at next week’s meeting or not, cannabis will still be legal in Maine, with all adults 21 years and older allowed to grow up to six plants at home and carry up to two and a half ounces of bud on their person.

As for the rest of the state’s relationship with reefer, Maine’s full legislative body will reconvene from their summer vacation to vote on both the legal weed regulations committee bill and the extended cannabis sales moratorium on Monday.

Follow Zach Harris on Twitter