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Defiant LePage Says He Won't Sign Bill Delaying Retail Pot Shops, Prohibiting Possession by Minors

Customers buy products at a marijuana dispensary in San Francisco, CA.
File: AP Photo/Haven Daley
Customers buy products at a marijuana dispensary in San Francisco, CA.

Gov. Paul LePage says he won’t sign a bill designed to ensure that minors won’t have access to marijuana until the Legislature fixes other issues with a citizen-initiated law that legalized the drug for adults. The emergency bill passed by the Legislature is designed to fix a drafting error in the law, which goes into effect Monday.

Lawmakers raced to fix the bill, passing it unanimously Tuesday in the hope that LePage will act before the marijuana law goes into effect.

Legislative leaders then met with the LePage, urging him to either sign or veto the bill before Monday. LePage was later asked by reporters if he was worried about the law going into effect with the loophoole.

Reporter: “Any concerns about the Monday deadline?”
LePage: “Not for me. The law is the law. The people passed it. I don’t see what the problem is. I’m more concerned with heroin.”

LePage told reporters that the Legislature passed the bill without his input. The committee that vetted the bill held a public hearing two weeks ago and several work sessions before passing it last week. It is not uncommon for the governor’s office to testify on bills, or offer changes. However, that does not appear to have happened in this instance.

LePage said he wanted to change oversight of rulemaking for the bill from the state agriculture department to the agency that manages alcohol sales. There appears to be support for this change, but lawmakers want a public hearing on the proposal before enacting it. The Legislature has also created a committee to make other changes to the marijuana law. 

Legislative leaders also wanted a quick fix to the law to make sure minors can't legally possess marijuana when the drug becomes legal to possess and use on Monday. The emergency bill also delays the retail licensing, testing and sale of marijuana until next year. The desire to complete both tasks before the legalization law goes into effect steered lawmakers from delving into many other changes to the law. 

But LePage's push for changing the oversight agency and funding rulemaking are complicating passage of the bill. 

House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said the Legislature had done its job to protect minors from legally possessing pot. Now, she said, it's time for LePage to do his part. 

So far, however, LePage appears unconcerned that the blame for a flawed law that could allow minors to possess the drug will fall on him. By law, he has 10 days to sign or veto the repair bill passed Thursday. If he takes neither action, the bill becomes law. If he vetoes it, the Legislature can override him with a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate. 

The House and Senate overwhelming endorsed the emergency measure, 143-0 and 34-0, respectively. In addition to fixing the drafting error in the citizen-initiated law to ensure that minors cannot posses marijuana, the bill also delays the retail sale of marijuana until next year.

Adults 21 and older will still be allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces and consume it on private property on Monday, even if the moratorium becomes law. But the delay effectively gives state lawmakers and affected agencies more time to develop rules governing the commercial cultivation and sale of marijuana. It also allows state lawmakers more time to tinker with the law during the current legislative session.

Lawmakers have submitted roughly 50 marijuana bills that deal with everything from packaging to testing for impaired driving.

The referendum passed by voters in November initially gave the state nine months to create the regulatory structure for retail sales. The moratorium essentially adds three months to the original timetable. It requires agencies to complete rule making to allow for retail sales by the end of October, but delays such sales until February of next year. Additionally, it limits the amount of concentrated marijuana a person can possess to five grams, while prohibiting the use of marijuana in a vehicle by a driver or passenger.