Lead image via

The Maine Legislature is getting closer to passing a complete legislative rewrite of the voter-approved ballot measure that legalized recreational cannabis in the state, but one of the state's leading cannabis advocacy groups has criticized the rewrite for straying too far from what voters approved last year. "This [new bill] will only encourage the black market in Maine and is the exact opposite of what the voters of Maine approved," said Paul McCarrier, president of Legalize Maine.

The voter-approved version of the law created a 10 percent sales tax on cannabis, but the current committee version would increase this to 20 percent by adding a wholesale tax. The new bill would also require cannabis license holders to have lived in Maine for at least two years, but would not limit the total amount of cannabis that can be grown in the state.

One of the most controversial elements of the new law is that towns that wish to allow recreational sales would be required to "opt in" to the legal market. Several other canna-legal states, like nearby Massachusetts, allow municipalities to "opt out" of allowing canna-businesses in their area, but this law would actually require cannabis-friendly municipalities to undertake extra effort to allow the industry to operate in their jurisdictions.

McCarrier believes that the "opt in" strategy will make it too difficult for the adult-use market to "get off the ground." McCarrier also took issue with the fact that the "opt in" language was only introduced into the bill after public hearings were held last month. "The process of how this language was inserted is disturbing and makes this bill not ready for prime time," he told the Portland Press Herald.

State Sen. Roger Katz and Rep. Teresa Pierce, co-chairs of the state Joint Select Committee on Marijuana Legalization Implementation, released a statement this week calling Legalize Maine's "11th-hour opposition … unfortunate, surprising, and disappointing." The legislators explained that they "went with an 'opt-in' system because this is exactly how state law works with alcohol, and it seemed appropriate to mirror that."

The local chapter of the Marijuana Policy Project, another major force for cannabis advocacy in the state, continues to support the amended bill, though. "While the regulations may not be perfect, we feel that this bill still represents what the voters wanted when they supported our campaign to regulate marijuana like alcohol," MPP director David Boyer told the Portland newspaper. "Implementation should not be delayed any further."

Neither Boyer nor the marijuana committee believe that Legalize Maine's opposition will prevent the bill from passing. "We are confident that our colleagues will approve this bill because the alternative is chaos," Katz and Pierce wrote. "We are proud of our committee's work and the totally transparent process we followed."

The Legislature will debate the bill at a special session on Monday. Gov. Paul LePage has repeatedly said that he wished the Legislature would completely repeal cannabis legalization, even calling in to a local talk radio show to say that he was "urging [U.S. Attorney General] Jeff Sessions to put the hammer down on states that have recreational marijuana." In light of LePage's opposition, supporters of the bill are working to secure enough votes to override a potential veto.