Maine's year-old moratorium on adult-use cannabis sales is set to expire today, but the state is still months, if not longer, from opening recreational pot shops. But as state legislators and Republican Governor Paul LePage continue to delay open access to dispensaries, starting today, February 1st, Maine businesses will no longer be able to fire employees for off-the-clock weed use or disqualify job applicants based solely on failing to pass a drug test for marijuana.
Voters in the Pine Tree state passed recreational legalization in November of 2016, but thanks skepticism in the state house and Governor's mansion, lawmakers quickly passed a sales moratorium to buy regulators enough time to rework the ballot measure's taxation, licensing, and sales structures. Still, after 12 months of legislative bickering, the retail sales ban has expired, but without proper protocol in place, prospective ganjapreneurs are no closer to licenses or permits than they were a year ago.
According to local ABC affiliate WMTW, instead of rushing through a standard set of legal weed regulations, like officials in Nevada did in July of 2017, Maine lawmakers have instead pushed to extend the sales moratorium until either April of this year or February of 2019.
But while it's still unsure when canna-businesses will be able to experience Maine's promised green rush, the sales moratorium expiration has led to some good. As a result, Maine is now the country's first state to institutionally protect employees from unfair hiring and firing practices due to cannabis use. Employers will no longer be able to test applicants for cannabis prior to hiring, or fire an employee for using cannabis outside of the workplace. Accordingly, the Maine Department of Labor has removed cannabis from its list of drugs that "model" employers should test for, notes Lexology.
Of course, businesses can still terminate employees that show up to work high or use cannabis on the job. And employees will continue to be subject to drug tests for federally-funded positions. But outside of those exigent circumstances, Maine workers will now have legitimate protection against anti-cannabis employers.
As for the future of Maine's recreational market, Senator Roger Katz has suggested extending the moratorium for at least two more months, while state House leader Kenneth Fredette and Gov. LePage have expressed interest in pushing the sales ban for another year. Regardless, state officials predict that regulators will need somewhere around nine months to sort out a strict set of regulations. In other words, ban or not, there's still a long road ahead before Pine State residents can buy their pot from state-approved stores.
Follow Zach Harris on Twitter