Photo via Maine Dept. of Education
Maine Governor Paul LePage has threatened to veto the state legislature's most recent revision of the voter-approved ballot measure legalizing recreational cannabis in the Pine Tree State. State lawmakers have been struggling to draft regulations governing the recreational cannabis program that voters legalized back in 2016, but LePage has been working against his constituents' wishes to thwart the establishment of legal weed sales at every opportunity.
Last year, the state legislature passed a new bill that replaced the voter-approved legalization measure, but even though this new bill was significantly more conservative than the original measure, Gov. LePage vetoed it, pushing back the rollout of legal pot stores by at least another year. This year, lawmakers went back to the drawing board and drew up an even more restrictive version of the bill, removing the possibility of cannabis social clubs and reducing the number of pot plants each resident can grow from six to three.
Even though the new bill adds even more restrictions, the governor has said that he will veto it again. This time, he says he doesn’t approve of the fact that the new regulations for recreational cannabis will be completely separate from the existing regulations governing medical cannabis. LePage “was very explicit about problems with having two regulatory systems and tax structures,” his press secretary Julie Rabinowitz said to the Portland Press-Herald.
Maine currently taxes medical cannabis at 5.5%, or 8% for edibles. The new bill would impose an effective tax rate of 20% on recreational cannabis, and LePage has argued that this tax difference will encourage recreational users to buy lower-priced medical cannabis instead. Of course, gaining access to medical cannabis in Maine requires approval from a doctor, as well as a $100-200 fee to obtain an official MMJ patient card, which makes it unlikely that a large number of recreational users would actually go to the trouble.
Both chambers of the state legislature have approved the bill, which will move to LePage’s desk this week. The governor’s announcement that he still intends to veto the bill drew immediate criticism from state lawmakers who have been working to tailor the bill to his wishes. “We worked very hard to create a bill that addressed the governor’s concerns, as well as those of our colleagues,” state Rep. Teresa Pierce, House chairwoman of the committee that drafted the bill, said to the Portland Press-Herald. “Our bill has received strong support in both houses. I hope the governor will reconsider, but if he vetoes it, I’d hope that we can still count on their votes.”
Even if LePage does veto the bill, all is not lost. The legislature can override the governor's veto with a two-third majority vote from each chamber. The state House approved the bill with a 112-34 vote, and the state Senate passed it with a 24-10 vote, each of which is a wide enough margin to overturn the veto. In order for the governor’s veto to hold, a total of 12 state Representatives or 2 state Senators would have to change their minds and vote against the bill.
LePage has ten days to decide whether to veto the bill, sign it into law, or allow it to become law without his signature. Even if the governor does veto the bill, and manages to convince the legislature not to override it, this is (thankfully) his last term in office.