Marijuana, ranked choice voting issues not going anywhere

By Sen. Kimberley Rosen

The Maine State House is usually a quiet place this time of year, but the building came back to life this week with the return of the Legislature.

A special session was called by the Governor to address two specific issues: ensuring a food sovereignty bill that the Legislature passed during the past session was in compliance with federal law, and providing adequate funding for the Maine Office of Geographic Information.

Fixes to both of these matters sailed through the legislative process. But two other controversial issues, recreational marijuana implementation and ranked choice voting, took up most of our time.

In the end, we ended up passing legislation to address both of them, but there is plenty of reason to believe we have not heard the last of either.

Having served on the Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee, I can tell you there is no way the state can begin the process of allowing recreational sales of marijuana in a way that will please everyone. Some people want full-fledged marijuana sales with few or no restrictions, while others want to ban the drug altogether. But the fact of the matter is the voters approved recreational marijuana, and we needed to come up with a responsible framework to implement it in order to address significant public safety issues.

After seven months of hearings and debate, the committee passed a bill, and that is what the full Legislature voted on this week. The Maine Senate and House of Representatives passed it, and it is now on the Governor’s desk. He has indicated he will veto it, and if he does, it is unclear whether there are enough votes to override a veto. While I have many reservations about legalizing recreational marijuana sales, I am also concerned about this bill failing, because that would bring us back to square one, and the original voter-approved bill, with all of its flaws, would be the law of the land.

Both the House and Senate also passed a ranked choice voting bill, which was also approved by voters, but also had a major flaw. In an advisory opinion, the Maine Supreme Court ruled that this type of voting system is unconstitutional under Maine law. The bill that we passed will temporarily suspend ranked choice voting, until December 2021, giving proponents time to pass a constitutional amendment to change the law to allow this type of voting system in Maine. If they are not able to do this by that time, ranked choice voting in Maine will be repealed.

In my opinion, the approach ranked choice voting advocates took to change our voting laws was improper. Before putting the issue in front of voters for a referendum, they first should have looked into the constitutionality of the law. That way, they could have attempted to change the Maine Constitution to allow it first, and then passed the law. Instead, they put the cart in front of the horse, which led to our current dilemma.

As I said, we likely have not heard the last of either of these issues, as consensus on both of them has been hard to come by, but lawmakers will continue to work on them in the days and months ahead.

Republican Sen. Kimberley Rosen of Bucksport is serving her second term in the Maine Senate. She is the chairwoman of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and also serves on the Transportation and Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committees.

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