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Republican Lawmakers Want To Extend The Moratorium On Voter-Approved Retail Marijuana

Haven Daley
Associated Press/file
Customers buy products at the Harvest Medical Marijuana Dispensary in San Francisco in April 2016.

Republican Gov. Paul LePage and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette say they want to extend Maine’s moratorium on retail marijuana sales and cultivation until 2019.

The proposal further jeopardizes passage of a bipartisan bill designed to overhaul and implement the voter-approved marijuana law passed nearly a year ago.

Fredette says the 9-month process to draft the marijuana implementation bill was rushed. And he says it excluded a key stakeholder — the LePage administration.

“I have concerns that the executive branch hasn’t been involved in it. I have concerns that the rule-making is going to take far more time than people anticipate,” he says.

Fredette says the result is a flawed bill that has created a number of enemies, including Legalize Maine, one of the groups that helped put the original legal marijuana bill on the ballot last year.

“It sounds like Rep. Fredette is hiding behind this process,” says David Boyer, who helped run the campaign that spearheaded last year’s ballot initiative.

Boyer’s group joined forces with Legalize Maine after the two organizations originally pursued separate proposals. But the two pro-legalization groups have split once again over the bill that’s set for a vote when lawmakers return for a special session on Monday.

Paul McCarrier of Legalize Maine announced this week that his group objects to a provision that requires cities and towns to opt-in to participate in the legalized market. It’s an extra step that Boyer says isn’t ideal, but shouldn’t torpedo the bill.

Boyer also criticizes Fredette and the governor’s office for saying they were excluded from the drafting process.

“It was a good process that he chose not to really participate in, or the governor. You know, we really didn’t hear from either of these folks the last nine months. So the committee did the best job they could given the fact that they didn’t have any buy-in from the governor or Rep. Fredette,” he says.

Several members of the marijuana implementation committee have complained for months that the LePage administration has declined to participate. The criticism grew louder when the committee couldn’t get guidance from Maine Revenue Services about a tax structure for commercial marijuana.

Now, Fredette and the governor’s office are highlighting the tax structure as the bill’s major flaw.

Democratic Rep. Teresa Pierce, co-chair of the committee, told the committee in September that the administration’s absence likely signaled its resistance.

“And I find it — I’ll say it — appalling that we have heard that this might not be acted upon. And that they’re not doing their job, that they’re elected to do and are paid to do,” she said. “It is wildly frustrating to have worked nine months on something and know that might be the outcome.”

Disappointment about the direction of the bill isn’t partisan. Republican Rep. Bruce Bickford says complaints about the process are unfounded. And he says lawmakers who oppose the bill are effectively voting for provisions in the citizens’ initiative that the committee agreed should be stripped out.

“Those that vote against this amended bill are voting for drive-thru windows. They’re voting for internet sales. They’re voting for home delivery. They’re voting for the Wild West, is what they’re voting for,” he says.

The current moratorium ends Feb. 1 of next year. Smart Approaches to Marijuana, the group that opposed the referendum last year, released a statement saying it supports an extended moratorium.

But it’s not clear if there are enough votes to pass either a moratorium or the bill itself. The resulting stalemate could mean that the original recreational marijuana law will remain in effect, and that means Mainers can continue to legally possess, grow and gift marijuana.

But they won’t be able to buy it or sell it — and the state won’t be able to tax or regulate it.