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Maine Lawmakers Present Compromise to Finally Jump-Start Legal Cannabis Sales

Mainers are still waiting for comprehensive industry standards and regulations more than a year after voters legalized recreational cannabis at the ballot box in 2016.

by Zach Harris

Over 14 months after Maine residents voted to legalize the possession, use, and sale of recreational cannabis, legislators and advocates in the Pine Tree State say they have arrived at a bipartisan agreement that could see adult-use pot shops open their doors as soon as July.

According to the Portland Press Herald, Republican State Senator Tom Saviello presented a set of draft regulations at a legal weed legislative hearing on Tuesday, expressing confidence that the bill could pass through the legislature this session.

With significant input from Legalize Maine, the group that wrote the voter-approved legalization ballot measure, as well as from anti-cannabis groups Smart Approaches to Marijuana and the Christian Civic League, Saviello's plan would include a 17.5% tax rate, a three-year ban on social use cannabis clubs, and also give Maine's medical marijuana providers the first opportunity to run adult-use canna-businesses. The state would also implement a "rolling licensing system" that offers Maine residents a chance to get a foot in the door of the impending industry.

"Our goal has been to bridge the gap between diverse interests to find a safe, appropriate way to regulate and implement adult use cannabis in Maine," Saviello said at the hearing. "[Stakeholders] have gone to great lengths to accept a diverse compromise that is not directly in line with their respective ideologies, but in the interest of democracy and progress they have made difficult concessions… Join us in that approach."

As soon as Maine residents punched enough ballots to turn legalization from proposal to reality in November 2016, state legislators immediately began amending and cutting the ballot measure's regulatory framework and ultimately delayed recreational sales until at least February 1st of 2018. And while this type of pre-anticipatory restructuring has occurred to some extent in every state that has legalized the sweet leaf, Maine lawmakers ran into a brick wall in October 2017, when a regulatory bill passed by both the State House and Senate was vetoed by Governor Paul LePage.

Now, with Maine's initial ballot measure regulations set to take hold in less than a month, legislators and advocates are trying their hardest to either pass new legal weed laws or delay the start of the legal industry further.

Outside of Saviello's proposal, Republican State Senator Roger Katz re-introduced last year's cannabis rules bill, suggesting an extension to the cannabis sales ban until at least May 1st, a date that Katz says would give lawmakers enough time to rework the previously vetoed bill to Gov. LePage's liking.

In a third proposal to finally bring recreational cannabis sales to the state, Maine Professionals for Regulating Marijuana introduced a proposal that they say would appease all of Gov. LePage's previous issues, including a plan to stop issuing caregiver licenses until late 2019.

Even with proposals suggesting extended delays and separation from the state' medical marijuana industry — both talking points from LePage's October veto — recent actions from Attorney General Jeff Sessions could influence LePage to balk at even the most conservative plan, with threats of a federal crackdown cited as the Governor's most pressing legal weed worry last year. Those concerns have only increased in the week since AG Sessions revoked the recreational cannabis protections of the Obama-era Cole Memo.

"Until there is more clarity at federal levels in terms of enforcement, people who own or invest in marijuana-related businesses may be putting assets at risk and people who use marijuana may run afoul of federal law," LePage spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz said on Monday.

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Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.



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