Retail pot sales still 12 months off as marijuana now legal in Maine



ELLSWORTH — Mainers 21 and over were free to light up and smoke marijuana as of Jan. 30, but they’ll have to grow their own plants or be gifted some from a friend in order to use it.

That’s because retail stores and social clubs for marijuana are still at least a year off, after the Legislature unanimously voted to approve a bill that, among other things, says no retail marijuana establishments will open in Maine until Feb. 1, 2018.

Rep. Louie Luchini (D-Ellsworth) sponsored the bill, which he said also puts in place “safeguards for legalization.” While work remains to be done, he said it addresses problems with the original bill that was narrowly approved by voters at the polls in November.

Luchini said those safeguards include making it clear that people under 21 cannot use or possess pot, that marijuana (like alcohol) cannot be used while driving or in a vehicle and differentiates between marijuana and the more potent marijuana concentrate.

The bill gained unanimous support (13-0) from the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, which Luchini co-chairs, two weeks ago.

On Jan. 26, it received unanimous support in both chambers of the Legislature: 33-0 in the Senate (two senators were absent) and 143-0 in the House (eight representatives, including Rep. Larry Lockman (R-Amherst), were absent).

Despite that unanimous support at the State House, there was drama after the vote when the bill was sent to Governor Paul LePage for him to sign. The Governor has 10 days to sign or veto a bill when it is sent to his desk, and if he does nothing it goes into law.

Luchini and other legislators were concerned that if LePage failed to sign the bill before Jan. 30, the date recreational marijuana use became legal under state law, it would leave open the loopholes that existed in the original bill.

In a statement issued by the House Democratic Office on Jan. 27, Luchini said LePage was “putting his ego before our safety on the roads and protecting Maine kids.”

Despite making a public statement that he would not sign the bill until the Legislature fixed what he saw as flaws in the bill, LePage ended up signing the bill later on Jan. 27.

In a statement on his Facebook page, LePage blasted House Speaker Sara Gideon (D-Freeport). He said he had a Republican legislator, Rep. Brad Farrin of Norridgewock, introduce an amendment that would have transferred authority to oversee marijuana from the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations. The amendment also addressed how the rulemaking process for marijuana would be funded.

That amendment failed on a party-line vote before legislators voted unanimously to enact the bill as it came out of committee. LePage said Gideon then “turned around and introduced the exact same language in a bill she sponsored.”

Gideon did introduce LD 243, “An Act To Change the Oversight Agency for Recreational Marijuana from the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations and To Allocate Funds for Implementation,” on Jan. 26.

LePage said Gideon was “playing dirty politics” and said he was only signing Luchini’s bill “to protect Maine children from the dangers of marijuana.”

He then said he would issue an executive order to accomplish his goals, a promise he made good on Jan. 30.

A fiscal note attached to Luchini’s bill said delaying the effective date of retail marijuana sales until Feb. 1, 2018, will cost the state $500,000 in lost revenue.

It also noted that oversight of marijuana will require 18 permanent positions within state government.

Those positions, along with “related costs and certain one-time costs to regulate and control the licensing of the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, testing and sale of retail marijuana and retail marijuana products,” carry a projected price tag of just over $2.5 million, according to the fiscal note.

“Additional legislation will still be required to fund the licensing and enforcement functions of implementing the legalization of marijuana,” the fiscal note stated.

Local legislators to have a role in coming up with rules for pot

AUGUSTATwo local legislators have been named to the 17-member Select Committee on Marijuana Legalization Implementation.

Sen. Kimberley Rosen (R-Hancock County), of Bucksport, and Sen. Joyce Maker (R-Washington County), a Calais resident whose district includes Gouldsboro, Sullivan and Winter Harbor, were named to the committee by Senate President Michael Thibodeau (R-Waldo County).

The committee was established by a joint order from the Legislature earlier in January, and its job will be to “address outstanding issues regarding implementation of marijuana legalization,” according to a release from House Speaker Sara Gideon (D-Freeport).

“There is an enormous amount of work ahead for this committee because of the myriad of issues surrounding legalization that concern public safety, retail sales of the drug and state government oversight, to name a few,” Thibodeau said. “So instead of having individual committees examine each marijuana-related bill, it makes more sense to have one committee take a comprehensive approach and make recommendations to the full Legislature.”

Other members of the committee include:

Sen. Roger Katz (R-Kennebec County), Sen. Mark Dion (D-Cumberland County), Sen. Susan Deschambault (D-York County), Rep. Kimberly Monaghan (D-Cape Elizabeth), Rep. Scott Hamann (D-South Portland), Rep. Craig Hickman (D-Winthrop), Rep. Erik Jorgensen (D-Portland), Rep. Lydia Blume (D-York), Rep. Donald Marean (R-Hollis), Rep. Bruce Bickford (R-Auburn), Rep. Lance Harvell (R-Farmington), Rep. Patrick Corey (R-Windham), Rep. Michael Perkins (R-Oakland) and Rep. Kent Ackley of Monmouth, whose party affiliation is Common Sense Independent.

Rep. Teresa Pierce, Democrat of Falmouth, will chair the committee.

Steve Fuller

Steve Fuller

Reporter at The Ellsworth American,
Steve Fuller has worked at The Ellsworth American since 2012. He covers the city of Ellsworth, including the Ellsworth School Department and the city police beat, as well as the towns of Amherst, Aurora, Eastbrook, Great Pond, Mariaville, Osborn, Otis and Waltham. A native of Waldo County, he served as editor of Belfast's Republican Journal prior to joining the American. He lives in Orland. [email protected]