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LePage Opposes Legalized Pot at Town Hall, Citing Uncertain Tax Revenue

Gov. Paul LePage reiterated his opposition Wednesday evening to a fall ballot question that, if approved by the voters, would legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

LePage told an audience of about 50 at a town hall meeting in Bangor that he couldn’t understand how Maine could make any money off the drug and said Colorado’s legalization effort has failed to meet revenue expectations. But the conservative Tax Foundation says Colorado’s revenue from marijuana sales may exceed projections by 100 percent this year.

Supporters of the ballot question will at least not have to worry about Gov. Paul LePage deciding to campaign against the issue.

“I don’t smoke it, so I don’t care,” LePage said.

LePage used the meeting to weigh in on the marijuana question, which he described as an emotional issue. The governor continues to oppose legalization, saying Maine doesn’t need to put another vice on the streets. But he also admitted to being bewildered over the level of tax revenue that Maine could receive by legalizing marijuana sales that proponents of the question have pegged at around $27 million annually.

“I can’t figure out how you are going to tax something you grow in your backyard, I just can’t figure that out,” LePage said. “I’m watching with great interest, Colorado, and it’s a mess. They’re being sued by all of the surrounding states. It’s an absolute mess because they’re only getting a fraction of the revenues they thought they were going to get.”

But that’s not true, according to the conservative Tax Foundation, which released a study this month on states where recreational marijuana sales are legal. The Foundation said that after an initially slow start in 2014, when tax revenues from marijuana fell $14 million short of the $70 million projected by proponents of the issue, revenues surged to $113 million in 2015 and will likely exceed $140 million this year.

In fact, sales are so brisk that Colorado has scheduled a tax reduction for marijuana sales in July 2017, after a state-sponsored study substantiated the claims that high tax rates were permitting the continued existence of black and gray market suppliers.

LePage also reiterated his opposition to a higher minimum wage that will be featured on the fall ballot while returning to familiar themes, including making further reductions to the income tax, continuing his efforts to reform welfare, cutting energy costs and making the state more business friendly to spur job creation.

He also signaled his opposition to a referendum question that would introduce ranked-choice voting for the office of governor.

“The system is flawed, if you want to have a governor who gets more than 50 percent of the vote, is you do what most states do you have a free-for-all in the first one and the two top vote getters go head-to-head in a one-on-one challenge and then you get somebody who’s going to get 50 percent.” LePage said.

LePage also said that he believed that the ballot question, if approved by the voters, would not withstand a constitutional challenge.