The legislative committee charged with developing regulations for the sale of recreational marijuana in Maine has voted to extend a moratorium on the adult-use market until mid-April.
The moratorium that's been in place since last year has had little practical effect on the marijuana law voters approved back in 2016.
That's because Republican Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill last fall that would have established licensing standards for the purchase and sale of marijuana.
Nevertheless, lawmakers on the Marijuana Implementation Committee voted Friday to extend the moratorium - which expires on Feb. 1 - to April 18.
Without a moratorium on sales, some fear the public will be confused into thinking that it's OK to proceed with retail business plans.
Committee Chairwoman Teresa Pierce, a Democrat from Falmouth, says the moratorium has the duel effect of reminding the public that the adult use market is still offline while also encouraging lawmakers to continue drafting a bill to get it up and running.
"This is a simple bill that addresses it," Pierce said. "It keeps the pressure on us to do our work, to establish good policy."
Pierce and others thought they had achieved good policy after spending nine months crafting a bill last year. The LePage administration largely excluded itself from the process, and vetoed the bill.
Lawmakers on the committee are now trying to craft a second proposal, with an eye toward getting a veto-proof majority of support in the Legislature - or, potentially, the governor's signature.
But recreational marijuana advocates, including David Boyer, who helped lead the 2016 ballot initiative, worry that the committee is negotiating with itself and that its work will be in vain.
"To be perfectly frank, we're starting to even wonder if it's worth doing anything this session - if 2018 is just a lost year," Boyer testified before the committee. "Why try to appease a governor that's not going to support anything that this committee --"
Pierce cut him off, saying he wasn't allowed to speculate about the governor: "Again, we're not going to reference anyone else, other than the work of this committee, so thank you."
But Boyer isn't the only one who wonders if the effort to create regulations for an adult-use market is a fantasy that won't be realized until after LePage leaves office next year.
Democratic Rep. Lydia Blume, of York, worries that the administration will be less inclined to negotiate if the moratorium is extended.
"I just see what we have done here as a committee is that we have extended the moratorium, and therefore, have extended the inaction of the executive branch to do the work that it needs to do," Blume said. "If we didn't extend this moratorium would it help them write rules?"
Ultimately Blume joined her colleagues on the committee in unanimously backing the moratorium extension.
The proposal nows goes to the full Legislature for votes that are likely to take place next week.
This story was originally published Jan. 19, 2018 at 2:58 p.m. ET.