Maine Marijuana Panel Deluged With Comments

Feb 28, 2017

Maine and other states that have legalized the recreational use of marijuana face a growing cloud of uncertainty following signals of a possible enforcement crackdown from the Trump administration.

In Augusta Tuesday, a panel charged with implementing Maine’s new marijuana law heard from stakeholders directly affected, including the state’s business community.

Committee co-chairman Sen. Roger Katz, a Republican from Augusta, opened the crowded hearing by acknowledging the daunting task the panel faces in implementing the new law.

“Details of licensing and oversight and public safety and public health and all the rest of the things that other states have already struggled with,” he says.

And there are many unanswered questions around how the fee and taxing scheme outlined in the citizens initiative will actually work.

Some attending the hearing were seeking insight into how the state’s medical marijuana system can be integrated with the regulations around recreational use. Several users of medical marijuana expressed fear that program would be eliminated.

But Paul McCarrier, president of Legalize Maine, one of the groups that supported passage of the marijuana referendum, says that is not the intent.

“We’ve offered this initiative, gathered signatures and as we were speaking with voters, who made it clear that legalization should not be used to dismantle the current medical marijuana program. This is one of the most controversial issues that I personally encountered,” he says.

And there was testimony from people like Elaine Graham, who are concerned about maintaining local control. Cities and towns can prohibit marijuana retail stores or smoking lounges under current law, and she asked the panel not change that.

“Freedom of speech will be honored in your implementation and that anybody can have a petition effort to ban what they don’t like. Actually I wish the whole thing wasn’t here,” Graham says.

But some aspects of local control are more complicated than they first appear. Geoff Herman of the Maine Municipal Association says the language in the voter-approved law is confusing in its definition of zoning of pot facilities and local licensing.

“They are two separate things that are done by two separate groups at the local level. Land use regulation is done by the planning board, licensing is typically done by the municipal officers or their designee. Those two concepts are sort of mushed together in here,” he says.

Maine’s business community also was out in force to raise concerns about the potential effects of marijuana use or impairment in the workplace. The voter approved legislation has protections against employers refusing to hire recreational marijuana users, but does not address issues about impairment in the workplace.

“There is very little guidance for the employer around discipline, discharge, about impairment in the workplace and what they can and cannot do. What is the implication around worker’s compensation?” says Peter Gore, vice president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.

Impairment is also an issue for law enforcement. Rep. Matt Harrington, a Republican from Sanford, is a police officer when not serving at the Legislature. He says he has seen an increase in drivers smoking marijuana but says there is no simple test for pot impairment like there is for alcohol.

He says the state should mandate a training program that qualifies officers to recognize impairment.

“This training program is only a few days, so it will provide officers with the ability to administer the lack of convergence test which will help determine marijuana impairment,” Harrington says.

The committee has been referred dozens of related bills, which would affect the law in a wide variety of ways, from minor tweaks to outright repeal.

Hearings get underway in March.