Maine Gov. Paul LePage, Sept. 22, 2017, in Washington. (Andrew Harnik, Associated Press)

Maine Gov. Paul LePage vetoes marijuana bill, saying federal future of legalization uncertain

Republican Gov. Paul LePage has vetoed a bill passed by the Maine legislature 11 days ago to regulate the retail sale of marijuana.

The Maine Legislature is set to return Monday to deal with any vetoes by LePage. The bill that sets rules for sales and taxes on marijuana passed with a two-thirds majority in the Senate, but not in the House. A two-thirds vote is necessary to override the veto.

In a letter containing his veto statement, LePage noted: “The Obama administration said they would not enforce federal law related to marijuana; however, the Trump administration has not taken that position. 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.”

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In his statement, LePage referred to a conversation with Colorado’s Gov. John Hickenlooper, saying Hickenlooper “was adamant that Maine should learn from the mistakes made by his state and others that have pursued legalization efforts. He urged that we take the time necessary to get our law right from the start and not rush just to get something in place. There have been serious negative effects of legalization in other states — effects that should not be repeated in Maine.”

LePage also cited recent statistics that marijuana-related traffic deaths have increased in the years since November 2012, when Colorado voters approved a ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana. Sales of adult-use cannabis started a little less than 14 months later, in January 2014.

Friday was the last day for LePage to veto this bill as well as one delaying implementation of ranked-choice voting. His other options were to sign the bill into law or let it become law without his signature.

The Maine Marijuana Project called on lawmakers to override the governor’s veto, The Associated Press reported. The group said legislators should allow marijuana sales, likely in 2019.

“Governor LePage has made a mistake by vetoing this legislation. Instead of a regulated and controlled system of marijuana cultivation and sales, Maine will continue to support the unregulated market,” said David Boyer, political director of the marijuana advocacy group.

A group opposed to the bill, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, praised the governor for vetoing the “flawed bill,” according to AP.

“This bill has gaping holes with respect to youth access and public safety. We now call on Maine lawmakers to do the right thing and sustain the veto,” said SAM Chairman Scott Gagnon.

In October, LePage had called for the legislature to delay sales until 2019 while they worked on the details of regulation.

It has been legal to possess and grow marijuana in the state since February 1, but in late January, the legislature delayed sales until February 1, 2018.

Maine voters narrowly voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use a year ago. The vote was so close that there was a two-day recount.

In January, when LePage was signing the voter-approved referendum, he said he remained skeptical of whether it is wise for the state to implement legalized marijuana for recreational use.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Read: Maine Gov. Paul LePage veto letter of marijuana legalization bill