Governor proposes pushing back legal pot sales until 2019
By MARINA VILLENEUVE
Oct. 19, 2017
AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine's Republican governor is pushing for lawmakers to delay the start of legal recreational marijuana sales instead of rewriting the voter-approved marijuana law.
Republican House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, who also supports a delay, said lawmakers haven't had enough time to read the 70-page bill that would rewrite the voter-approved law. The bill also would add taxes and delay sales until 2019.
Fredette is sponsoring a bill from Gov. Paul LePage that would only delay sales.
Voters in 2016 approved a law to legalize possession and sales of recreational marijuana. Possession became legal this year, and lawmakers have delayed marijuana sales to at least February 2018.
The governor's office said LePage won't comment on legislation until it hits his desk. LePage this year has said he's urging U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to put the hammer down on states that have recreational marijuana.
The Maine Legislature is set to return Monday to vote on a re-write offered by a joint legislative committee handling marijuana implementation. The committee's co-chairs said LePage and Fredette's move disrespects Maine voters and the committee's nine months of work.
"This 11th-hour attempt to wreak havoc by Gov. LePage and Rep. Fredette is obstructionism for no good reason," Republican Sen. Roger Katz said.
Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an advocacy group opposed to marijuana legalization, welcomed the governor's bill and said it makes no sense to "jam" the committee's bill Monday. The organization's Maine chair Scott Gagnon said he wants to change the voter-approved law to prohibit pot social clubs and prevent young Mainers from entering retail pot shops.
Advocacy group Legalize Maine opposed the committee's bill over concerns that it would make it harder to set up marijuana businesses. The bill would require towns to "opt in" to the adult-use marijuana market.
But the state chapter of the Marijuana Policy Project is lambasting the delay offered by Fredette and the governor.
Its director, David Boyer, said his group supported the committee's marijuana bill despite some concerns. He said the committee's monthslong process was transparent and fair.
"The original delay and moratorium, we were assured it would be the only one," he said. "We don't understand the need for it or why Rep. Fredette is putting it in."
He said Maine is now lagging behind other states where voters in 2016 said approved legalizing recreational marijuana, such as Nevada, California and Massachusetts.
The governor's bill follows concern from the LePage administration that the committee's marijuana bill doesn't address issues like the state's existing medical marijuana program.
Maine's medical marijuana program will "be a less expensive, easier and less regulated entry into the retail and unregulated markets," wrote Scott Lever, a state deputy commissioner of health services, in written testimony opposing the legislative committee's bill. Lever said the Department of Health and Human Services has .
The state Department of Administrative and Financial Services has also estimated that Maine will need to add 64 positions to implement the marijuana law, including 30 in the alcohol and lottery bureau.