The compromise measure will reduce the number of plants Mainers may grow, combine oversight of the medical and adult-use marijuana programs under one agency, increase the adult-use marijuana tax rate, and more.
The Maine Senate floor, where a bill to overhaul and implement the Maine adult-use marijuana program passed today by a veto-proof 24-10 margin.
The most recent bill aimed at launching Maine’s adult-use cannabis market cleared its second-to-last obstacle today, passing the Maine Senate 24-10 and bringing the state one step closer to regulated recreational marijuana sales. The bill must return to the House of Representatives for concurrence, and will then land on Governor Paul LePage’s desk, whereupon he will have 10 days to sign it into law, veto it, or allow it to pass without his signature to avoid an override by the legislature, where it passed with a veto-proof majority.
If the bill becomes law, which appears likely, the state may license the first adult-use cannabis businesses as early as the spring or summer of 2019, though the timeline for agency rules, which are needed before licenses may issue, remains unknown. The bill would allow the state to license cannabis stores for customers 21 and older, cultivation facilities, products manufacturing facilities that manufacture cannabis-infused food and products, and testing facilities to ensure product safety and purity. The bill would also jumpstart the adult-use market, by allowing medical marijuana caregivers and dispensaries to sell cannabis to adult-use cultivation facilities for two years after issuance of the first adult-use cultivation license.
The implementation bill, which passed by a wide margin in both the House and Senate, marks a compromise more than a year in the making. A similar, but less conservative implementation bill passed both houses last fall, but failed to garner the two-thirds majority required to override Governor LePage’s veto. The Marijuana Legalization Implementation (MLI) Committee responsible for drafting the bill then reconvened and produced the more conservative version that passed today.
The bill does contain a number of compromises that deviate from the original text of the Marijuana Legalization Act, enacted by citizen’s initiative in November 2016. For example, Mainers over 21 will be limited to cultivating three mature marijuana plants rather than six. Applicants who have been Maine residents for four years or more will receive top priority, while the previous bill favored residency of just two years or more. Mainers and tourists will also not be able to consume cannabis at social clubs as allowed by the citizen’s initiative, or purchase adult-use cannabis via delivery, online, or drive-through sales. The initiative’s 10 percent sales tax rate will be increased to an effective 20 percent tax. Moreover, towns will not only be permitted to regulate which types of facilities they will permit and where, but will also be required to vote to “opt in” if they wish to allow adult-use cannabis facilities. Towns will also not receive any tax incentive for adult-use cannabis sales within their borders, as was proposed by the previous implementation bill.
The bill also transfers oversight of Maine’s medical marijuana program from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to the Department of Administrative and Financial Services (DAFS) – the agency responsible for implementing the adult-use marijuana program. Like the lower limit on personal-use plants Mainers may grow, the oversight shift came in the form of a last-minute amendment by the MLI committee earlier this week, providing no opportunity for a public hearing on the changes before today’s vote.
Medical marijuana program advocates have expressed concern over the merging of the two programs under DAFS, citing DAFS’ lack of experience regulating the medical marijuana program, or any medical program, and the potential for the medical and adult-use marijuana programs to be merged into one program under DAFS. The elimination of a distinct medical marijuana program, advocates say, would negatively impact medical marijuana patients, who often require specialized products and services offered by medical marijuana caregivers and dispensaries, which retail marijuana stores may not provide.
If the bill continues unimpeded through the House concurrence process and is signed by the governor, or survives a veto attempt, it will be passed into law. However, no licenses will issue and no facilities will open until after DAFS enacts rules to implement the program. Unlike the previous implementation bill, today's measure provides no deadline for DAFS to enact those rules, so it remains unclear how soon Mainers will see adult-use marijuana facilities open their doors.