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Maine House Leader suggests delaying cannabis sales another year

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine lawmakers on Tuesday started discussions about how long to delay retail marijuana sales while lawmakers continue to work on regulations needed to get the industry up and running.

A ban on retail cannabis sales technically is in place until Thursday, but the state hasn’t set up a way for marijuana retailers to get the required licenses.

The Maine Senate began considering Republican Sen. Roger Katz’s bill to delay sales until the spring, though it’s unlikely regulations would be ready by then. Meanwhile, Republican House Leader Ken Fredette, who is running for governor, wants to delay recreational marijuana sales no longer than until Jan. 31, 2019, according to a proposed amendment provided to The Associated Press.

Katz’s bill would face action in both chambers.

Maine voters in 2016 narrowly approved legalizing recreational marijuana, and adults over age 21 can now possess up to 2.5 ounces of pot. But the state has placed a ban on retail sales as lawmakers try to overhaul the voter-approved law and get the regulatory process going under Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s administration.

LePage has said legalizing recreational marijuana flouts federal law and has called for lawmakers to address issues such as medical marijuana. LePage spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz said the governor supports delaying pot sales beyond this spring.

The Legislature last summer appropriated $1.4 million to help state regulators draw up marijuana rules that would require legislative approval.

Since then, a legislative panel has been trying to draw up an overhaul of the marijuana law that would address issues such as the taxing of retail marijuana, municipal revenue-sharing and pot social clubs. House Republicans helped sustain LePage’s veto of such a bill last fall, and the legislative committee is now working on a new version.

Department of Administrative and Financial Services spokesman David Heidrich said it would be unwise to start rulemaking and planning for implementing the marijuana law until a final bill becomes law. He said the $1.4 million remains unspent.

“It would be imprudent to occupy staff time and expend tax dollars on rulemaking when the department does not have a regulatory framework in place to which we can rule make,” Heidrich said in an email.

Once lawmakers are finished making changes, it could take state regulators at least nine months to draw up rules that the next Legislature would have to approve, Heidrich said.

Recreational use of marijuana also has passed in Massachusetts, which is also awaiting the implementation of systems to tax and regulate marijuana.