A new bill to regulate recreational cannabis use in Maine would allow cannabis social clubs to open across the state beginning in 2019. However, the proposed bill does not include an exemption from the state's public smoking ban, so it will likely be illegal to smoke marijuana in these marijuana clubs. The smoking ban extends to vaping as well, so the current legislation would only permit use of edibles, tinctures, or topical cannabis products in these new venues.
The current bill, which is a legislative rewrite of the voter-approved ballot measure passed last year, would delay the licensing of cannabis social clubs until July 2019. Legalization advocates were disappointed by the delay, but were pleased to find that club licensing was not removed from the bill altogether. Advocates were also pleased that the bill will allow patrons to purchase and use cannabis within the same venue.
The bill does not actually prohibit the smoking of cannabis in these clubs, but the clubs would need to be legally exempted from the state's public smoking ban before they could allow public pot consumption. Legalization advocates argue that these social clubs should be treated the same as alcohol or tobacco establishments.
“We have social clubs for alcohol, and they are called bars,” David Boyer, director of the Maine chapter of the Marijuana Policy Project, said. “Bars can have outside smoking patios. And cigar clubs, they certainly allow smoking. Marijuana is safer than either of those substances.”
State Senator Roger Katz said that the Committee on Marijuana Legalization Implementation is divided on the issue of social clubs. “Some of us, including myself, did not want to be the first state to experiment with social clubs because of the public safety concerns,” he said. “Others said it was going to happen anyway, better we recognize it and appropriately license and regulate them, which is what voters wanted. But we had consensus on keeping our smoking ban intact.”
Even with the delay, Maine could still be the first state to open cannabis social clubs. Oregon prohibits these clubs explicitly, and Alaska and California are debating whether or not to officially license them. Local governments in Colorado, Nevada, and California have the ability to license cannabis clubs, but the only city to do so is Colorado City, and even these clubs will be forced to close by 2023.