Committee Makes Headway on Recreational Marijuana Legislation

Feb 21, 2018

A special legislative committee is closer to creating a new bill to regulate recreational marijuana for adults. Lawmakers on the panel hope the proposal will garner enough support to become law, but there's already grumbling that it concedes too much to Gov. Paul LePage, an opponent of legalization.

The marijuana implementation committee has taken a series of straw votes that significantly overhaul the law approved by voters in 2016. The changes include cutting in half the number of flowering plants a Maine adult can cultivate for personal use from six plants to three. It also eliminates cannabis social clubs and it requires cities and towns to take affirmative action to allow cultivation, wholesaling and retail operations. The committee also reversed course on a provision that would have shared tax revenue from cannabis sales with cities and towns.

Last year the committee supported municipal revenue sharing as a way of defraying costs that municipalities may incur in policing or regulating cannabis businesses and to help create a viable regulated market. This provision was opposed by the governor and some Republicans who worried it would spur availability of a substance still outlawed by the federal government.

The committee also voted to move oversight of Maine's medical program from the Department of Health and Human Services to the same agency that oversees state finances and tax collection. Republican Sen. Roger Katz said consolidating oversight of the medical program and the recreational one was more efficient.

“Having these two programs – the licensing, regulation and enforcement – in two separate departments of government just doesn't make any sense. If we were starting from scratch we would never build a system that way,” Katz said.

But the provision also worries advocates of the medical cannabis program, who argue that finance agency doesn't have the expertise to deal with patient privacy or a substance used as medicine by some.

The committee is expected to vote on the tax framework and final outline of the bill Friday.