The legal sale of recreational marijuana is one step closer to reality. The Maine Senate is backing a bill to allow retail marijuana sales approved by voters in 2016.
The first attempt to set up a marketplace under legislation approved by the voters two years ago failed to overcome a veto by Gov. Paul LePage last fall.
Republican Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta, who co-chaired the committee that drafted the legislation, welcomed Wednesday’s Senate vote of 24-10 in favor.
“To quote the Grateful Dead, what a long strange trip this has been over now 16 months of this legislature,” he says. “It starts with the passage of the citizen referendum in 2016.”
The House also supported this new proposal by a significant vote of 112 to 34, enough to override another possible veto. But opposition to the bill is expected from republicans.
GOP Sen. Scott Cyrway of Benton, says the federal government sees marijuana in the same light as heroin and fentanyl, and that the legislation does not go far enough to assure public safety.
“What are we doing here?... I am just appalled at how this is going down. I am voting no for every marijuana piece here,” Cyrway says.
The Governor’s office says he has not taken a position on this legislation. Several previous bills in the past have received two-thirds margins on initial passage, but failed to garner the votes to override a LePage veto. LePage has said in the past that Maine shouldn't legalize pot while it remains illegal at the federal level.
Supporters say there were several changes made in an attempt to win LePage’s support, including the removal of a provision that would have shared tax revenue from cannabis sales with cities and towns.
There are other changes to the marijuana law that Maine voters ratified in 2016. The new version keeps the 10 percent retail sales tax, but adds an excise tax on wholesale transactions. It also cuts in half the number of flowering plants allowed for personal use, from six plants to three.
The measure faces further votes in both the House and Senate.