Marijuana in Maine: Slow Motion Crawl Toward Adult-Use Sales

An obstructionist governor has drastically slowed the already complicated process of creating a regulatory structure from scratch.

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Amid headlines about marijuana legalization getting approved by voters this fall in the Midwest and unlikely places like Utah, a question remains: Whatever happened to marijuana in Maine?

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If efficiency and effectiveness are the standard for grading how governments implement the will of the people, Maine would get an “F.” Two years after state voters approved the sale of adult-use cannabis in the state, you still can’t buy it anywhere in Maine. By contrast, voters in Nevada and California approved legal recreational marijuana the same day as voters in Maine but have been able to buy marijuana for a long time. Both businesses and the governments are enjoying the cannabis profits.

What’s more, there remains confusion about where things stand In Maine. “There's a lot unknown and that's the problem right now," a medical marijuana dispensary owner told CBS 13 in Portland. "Nobody really knows anything."

Related: Pro-Marijuana Candidates Were Big Midterm Winners but Now They Need to be Prodded

A brief history of marijuana in Maine.

Maine has a history of being on the forefront of the marijuana movement -- until lately. Back in 1976 it became just the third state to decriminalize marijuana possession. It's been more than 40 years and still just 22 states and the District of Columbia have done that, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In 1999, Maine voters legalized medical marijuana. They were only the fifth state to do so.

Then came 2016. A ballot proposition approving the sale of adult-use marijuana passed, but so narrowly that opponents requested a recount. However, after the recount started and it became apparent the result would not change, they withdrew their recount petition. The pathway was clear for the state to set up a regulated marijuana sales system.

Enter Governoer Paul LePage

The state legislature had nine months to hammer out a system governing marijuana sales. They accomplished that goal, but then ran into Gov. Paul LePage. He vetoed the measure in November 2017. The Republican governor he cited guidance from then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions as part of the reason for his veto, disregarding -- or, at least, not mentioning -- the fact that other states had moved ahead with marijuana sales. LePage wrote in his veto message that "until I clearly understand how the federal government intends to treat states that seek to legalize marijuana, I cannot in good conscience support any scheme in state law to implement expansion of legal marijuana in Maine.”

Related: Pesticide Contamination Is a Growing Cannabis Safety Concern

Round 2

In 2018, the state Legislature crafted a bipartisan compromise bill that would allow legal cannabis sales -- which, after all, is the will of the people. The new measure is more conservative than the first one. For example, it prohibits cannabis social clubs. It also put in specific measures that gave more power for controlling cannabis sales in the hands of local governments.

LePage vetoed it again.

This time, the Legislature overrode his veto, moving forward with plans to create the system. They finalized those plans in June, handing responsibility for writing the rules for a regulated marijuana system to the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services.

Outside Help

As it turned out, the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services didn’t know how to craft rules to create a legal, regulated adult-use marijuana market. Instead, they solicited bids from consultants. Five applied but the process just closed in November 2018.

And that’s where things stand. Comments in media reports vary, but the consensus seems to be that a consultant should be hired by January, and then it might take another nine months to get the regulations written. That would put the start of sales, realistically, in the fall of 2019.

Tammie Snow, an attorney who represents those in the marijuana industry, told CBS 13, “A lot of my clients are frustrated. Obviously, they're frustrated because it has been two years."

Now, it looks like it will be three.

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