In the past two days, Maine legislators have made more progress implementing regulations for the commercial cannabis industry than they have in the last two years. Cannabis was legalized by voters in the November 2016 election, and since then the law allowing possession and home growing of cannabis has gone into effect. But the retail industry that would allow dispensaries to open for adults 21 and older cannot get underway until the state puts regulations in place.
Last year, a bill was passed by both the Senate and the House, but it was vetoed by Governor Paul LePage. Lepage cited concerns over how the Trump Administration was going to handle the conflict between state and federal laws with the recent confirmation of now U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The bill had a another chance with a second vote from both the House and the Senate – but that required a 2/3 majority vote in both chambers. The Senate managed that 2/3 vote, the House did not, and the bill died and the moratorium on legal sales was extended.
“We worked hard to compromise and find common ground,” said Rep. Teresa Pierce, D-Falmouth, House chairwoman of the marijuana committee that crafted the bill. “Our town officials, our local businesses, our parents and families and communities that each of us represent are all asking us to put a reasonable, highly structured regulatory system in place. … They recognize the status quo just isn’t what we should be doing.”
A year later, a new bill was introduced that has some significant changes from the previous and current laws. It has eliminated the ability to buy and consume cannabis in a social club, reduced the amount allowed for home growing from six plants to three – in hopes of diverting legal cannabis from ending up on the illegal market. It was passed on Tuesday in the House with a 112-34 vote. On Wednesday, it passed in the Senate with a 24-10 vote. Both numbers are the majority needed to hopefully override a possible veto from Governor LePage.
“We listened and we listened and we listened,” said Sen. Roger Katz, who voted against the legalization of adult-use marijuana at the November 2016 referendum. “We talked to all the stakeholders, we looked at other states and what they’ve done… We tried to thread the needle and be right in the middle of the pack.”
Over the past year, it appears that even lawmakers have become aware that investors that had come to the state expecting to become a part of the newly legalized cannabis industry have left for states where they could start their venture sooner. It appears that while not all changes may be favorable – like the loss of social cannabis consumption and reduced home growing limits – they did their best to ensure that the bill was something that most everyone could agree with, that way it would not further delay the implementation of a voter approved law.
There will be one more round of votes before this bill lands on Governor LePage’s desk for signature – but if it keeps progressing at the rate it has in the last two days then the state is on track to be licensing businesses by Spring 2019.