Luchini submits bill to delay retail pot businesses until 2018

ELLSWORTH — As a haze of questions continues to swirl around the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in Maine, a local legislator has submitted a bill that would delay part of the law voters narrowly approved in November.

Rep. Louie Luchini (D-Ellsworth) is the sponsor of LD 88, “An Act To Delay the Implementation of Certain Portions of the Marijuana Legalization Act.” The bill was set to be introduced Wednesday in Augusta and referred to the Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs, which Luchini co-chairs.

Essentially, the bill would delay the parts of the law applying to retail marijuana establishments — stores, social clubs and growing, testing and product-manufacturing facilities — until Feb. 1, 2018. It would not prohibit personal cultivation, possession and consumption of marijuana by adults age 21 and older, all of which are set to become legal in a little over two weeks on Monday, Jan. 30.

Rep. Louie Luchini (D-Ellsworth)

Luchini’s bill would modify the law to allow the use of pot “only in a private residence” prior to Feb. 1, 2018, rather than in a “nonpublic place” as the law originally stipulated. The “nonpublic place” provision would become effective on that February date next year if the delay is approved.

Luchini’s local legislative colleagues, meanwhile, polled by The American before the introduction of his bill, are split on whether such a delay is needed. Some believe the Legislature can act within the nine-month window stipulated in the legalization legislation, others believe a delay is prudent and one wants to scrap the law entirely.

Luchini said one of his chief concerns is protecting children and making sure the law is clear that marijuana is only for adults. He also wants to come up with a “regulatory and taxation system that does not leave the taxpayer on the hook for the new regulatory costs associated with legalization.”

He said legalization is a “huge undertaking” and that the delay would give the Legislature and state agencies time to “ensure they are fully prepared to regulated this controlled substance” and to “ensure we set up an appropriate tax rate.”

The response from other legislators was largely divided along party lines. Though Luchini is a Democrat, his fellow party members — Reps. Ralph Chapman of Brooksville, Walter Kumiega of Deer Isle and Brian Hubbell of Bar Harbor — said they do not support a delay at this time.

“I am of the opinion that the law should be implemented as fast as reasonably possible,” Kumiega said. He said he believes with “diligent effort” that the legislature can address the concerns and questions in the time frame outlined in the law.

Chapman said he was “not aware of any fundamental problems” with working within that time frame, either. Hubbell said he supports quick action by the Legislature to “remove any uncertainty whether the initiated law prohibits use by minors.”

All three Republican senators (Brian Langley and Kim Rosen of Hancock County and Joyce Maker of Washington County, whose district includes part of Hancock County) said they support a delay because of “unanswered questions” (Maker) and “unintended consequences” (Langley).

Maker and Langley said they would favor an across-the-board delay, applying to personal use as well as retail sales, while Rosen said it should only apply to retail businesses.

Republican Reps. Rich Malaby (Hancock) and Karl Ward (Dedham) both said they support delaying the law. Ward said he would go a step further and repeal it entirely, and said he would work to accomplish that this session.

Ward called the marijuana legalization bill “one of the most short-sighted, ill-conceived measures ever passed in Maine” and said it is “more evidence the referendum system in this state is broken.”

Legislators who support a delay were asked how they reconcile that support with the will of the voters as reflected in the November vote totals, and they pointed to narrow margins in their own districts.

“The will of the voters in my district is so evenly split that a moratorium to make sure, absolutely sure that this legislation is properly and thoroughly enacted is paramount to meeting the needs of both sides of this issue,” Langley said.

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]