AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine legislators on Tuesday sent a bill that would finally allow marijuana retail sales as voters demanded to Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who has vowed to veto it.
The Senate’s final passage of the bill comes after voters in 2016 approved retail marijuana sales. Possession of up to 2.5 ounces (71 grams) of marijuana already is legal in the state.
LePage, who vetoed a similar bill last fall, recently said he’d veto the latest bill because it doesn’t create a single program for both medical and recreational marijuana. But votes in the House and Senate suggest lawmakers may have the two-thirds support needed in each chamber to override a veto. LePage has 10 days to sign, veto or let the bill go into law without his signature.
Supporters say the bill provides needed changes to the voter-approved marijuana law to protect children. It eliminates marijuana social clubs, reduces the number of plants that people can have and prohibits sale near schools. The voter-approved law created a 10 percent sales tax on retail marijuana. The new bill also would require growing facilities to pay an excise tax of $335 per pound of mature marijuana plants and other new fees.
Republican state Sen. Roger Katz said he hopes the governor will reconsider his position. If Maine doesn’t pass the bill, the voter-approved version of the retail marijuana law will remain on the books.
“That law has few protections to keep marijuana out of the hands of kids: no advertising restrictions, no limitations on proximity to school, no labeling requirements,” said Katz, a member of a bipartisan legislative panel that spent months hashing out the compromise bill.
Maine needs a medical marijuana program to ensure children in need can receive non-psychoactive cannabis, Katz said. Higher taxes on recreational marijuana won’t necessarily drive people to medical marijuana system, he said.
Some pro-marijuana activists don’t like the bill sent to LePage because it cuts the number of plants a person can grow for personal use from six to three. They also voiced concerns about the revised tax structure and formalizing it in state law.
Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a group that campaigned against legalization, has said that the bill is workable because it bans marijuana social clubs, keeps children from entering marijuana retailers and imposes stronger limits on home growing. But the group still thinks legalization is a bad idea.
If the bill becomes law, Maine would become the latest state to allow retail marijuana sales out of the four states whose voters legalized recreational use in 2016. Massachusetts is on track to allow marijuana sales in July, while retail sales have begun in California and Nevada.
Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon also have legalized recreational marijuana sales and possession. Vermont and Washington, D.C., have legalized possession of recreational marijuana.