The State House is surrounded by fall foliage Monday, Oct. 23, 2017, in Augusta, Maine. (Robert F. Bukaty, Associated Press)

Maine marijuana sales up in air after lawmakers fail to override gov’s veto

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine lawmakers failed Monday to override Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill to regulate and tax the sale of marijuana, dealing a setback to cannabis advocates who want to see the product in stores.

Lawmakers needed a two-thirds majority in both chambers Monday evening to override the veto and fell well short. The result means lawmakers will have to go back to the drawing board in January to craft rules governing the sale of marijuana in Maine.

The result came after LePage urged lawmakers to scrap the bill and start over. He has cited concerns including how the Trump administration is going to treat the federal-state conflict in the proposal.

LePage also has said he’d need assurances from the Trump administration before establishing a new industry and regulations.

Proponents of legal marijuana, who approved a public referendum a year ago, said it’s time to put a regulatory structure in place. But lawmakers who supported the bill that LePage vetoed said they have no choice but to try a new approach.

“We’ve legalized gasoline, but not gas stations here,” said Rep. Martin Grohman, I-Biddeford, before the failed override vote. “If we don’t act and move we’re going to continue to create profits and incentives for the wrong people.”

Friday was the last day for LePage to veto bills to regulate the sale of marijuana, and he did.

The House and Senate had approved a marijuana bill in October after it was proposed by a bipartisan legislative panel. Panel members spent months rewriting the law to allow local communities to opt-in to recreational marijuana sales. Other changes included adding an excise tax to the existing 10 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana.

House Republican Leader Rep. Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, said Monday that passing a marijuana bill will take addressing Republican concerns about issues such as enforcement and penalties. Fredette, who voted to uphold the veto, called it “nothing we can’t solve.”

Fredette also said the Legislature needs to focus on extending the current moratorium on sales of recreational marijuana. The moratorium is set to expire on Feb. 1, and Fredette said there’s no way all of the necessary rules will be in place by then.

He has tried unsuccessfully to extend the moratorium to July 1 or Jan. 1, 2019.

“The Legislature needs to do the responsible thing and extend this moratorium today or as soon as we return for the new session beginning in January,” Fredette said.