Maine residents approved legal recreational marijuana back in 2016, but have been waiting on the government to approve a regulatory framework for the industry. Happily, the end of that wait is now in sight. Governor Janet Mills has signed into effect a law establishing cannabis industry guidelines that is set to take effect in September. That means the state’s first marijuana sales could take place as soon as early 2020.
“The rule development demonstrates what can be accomplished when state government works with lawmakers, industry stakeholders and the public to accomplish a shared goal,” said Mills. “With this law, we are one step closer to honoring the will of Maine voters.”
The initial regulatory framework is restrictive for out of state cannabis companies hoping to expand into Maine’s new industry. A person who has lived in the state for four years will need to have at least 51 percent ownership for a company to be eligible for a license, a clause that will remain in effect until June 2021.
That’s actually a more relaxed version of the originally proposed policy, which caused uproar from the state’s largest medical cannabis business Wellness Connection of Maine.
The law establishes other restrictions on those eligible for a marijuana sales license in the state; those who have lost a marijuana license in any part of the US, and those who have been convicted of a felony related to a drug besides cannabis in the last decade are out of luck.
Jurisdictions will be allowed to opt out of the green rush. In fact, only 15 of Maine’s 455 municipalities have so far expressed interest in stepping up recreational sales systems. The bill’s regulations also stipulate extensive security guidelines for retail location and acceptable marijuana dispensary business hours — from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., open to certain exceptions.
Of course, it would be a misnomer to claim that the governor had single handedly legalized marijuana in the state by signing into effect. That honor would more accurately go to the Maine electorate, who voted by a very slim margin back in 2016 to legalize recreational cannabis.
But the road to legal weed sales in Maine hit many snags. In 2017, Republican governor Paul LePage vetoed a bill that would have provided for cannabis sales by November of that year. His reasoning? Saving the youth, of course. “Sending a message, especially to our young people, that some drugs that are still illegal under federal law are now sanctioned by the state may have unintended and grave consequences,” LePage wrote in his veto letter.
At a public hearing in May, the state’s judiciary committee heard arguments on how to deal with past criminal records. Lawmakers had proposed one plan to automatically expunge past non-violent cannabis misdemeanors, and another that would merely seal qualifying criminal records.
Mills’ office will continue to iron out the details of the plan, including a public education campaign and regulations surrounding the cannabis tracking and licensing processes. The regulations are based on a 74-page rulebook developed by the state’s Office of Marijuana Policy, the full text of which is available online.
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