Maine voters may have approved Question 1 to legalize cannabis for adult use, but now lawmakers are pushing a bill that would delay the new law. It’s one of a handful of efforts by officials across the country to slow the implementation of cannabis laws in states that have legalized.
Question 1, which Maine voters approved by a razor-thin margin in November, includes a nine-month window during which the Legislature was expected to establish rules around how the legal market would be regulated. Senate President Mike Thibodeu (R-Winterport) and state Rep. Louis Luchini (D-Ellsworth), however, have introduced a bill, Legislative Document 88, that would give policymakers three additional months to develop and implement those rules.
“This gives us an opportunity to work through the summer on some of these tougher issues,” Thibodeau told the Portland Press Herald.
Thibodeau has said he wants more time to make sure law enforcement “has the tools they need to keep Maine’s highways safe,” a response to worries about driving under the influence. Officials have also expressed a need to ensure legal cannabis stays out of kids’ hands, although other legal states so haven’t seen increases in cannabis use by teens.
The legislation would apply to sales, distribution, and commercial cultivation of cannabis. Personal possession and private consumption by adults 21 and over are set to become legal on Jan. 30.
Critics of the bill, however, say it would blur timeline for implementing the state’s new legalization law.
“For any potential change to the will of the voters, the legislature must do the necessary due diligence and that is not the case with LD 88, which creates ambiguity around the timeline for implementation,” said David Boyer, the Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, which has come out in opposition to the delay.
Maine Gov. Paul LePage has criticized the measure, telling radio station WGAN, “If there ever was a bill that the Legislature should just kibosh, that’s it.” Although voters approved Question 1, he said last month, they “did not know what they were voting on.”
Maine isn’t the only state where newly passed legalization laws have been hit with delays. The Arkansas House on Tuesday OK’d delays to that state’s new medical cannabis law, giving state agencies until May rather than March to finalize rules and pushing a deadline for dispensary applications from June 1 to July 1.
North Dakota lawmakers are also asking for more time to implement that state’s new medical marijuana law, the North Dakota Compassionate Care Act, which surprised even proponents when it passed with 65 percent of the vote. A rare joint legislative meeting of the House and Senate recently considered a proposal to delay the North Dakota law until the end of July. The so-called emergency measure is supported by both Republican and Democratic leaders, who have said that state health officials and law enforcement are scrambling to tie up a number of loose ends, including the allowed forms and potency of medical cannabis.
Maine’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee of the state Legislature held a public hearing for LD 88 on Tuesday afternoon, drawing dozens of attendees.