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Maine Lawmakers Override Governor To Start Adult-Use Marijuana Sales

Today, Maine lawmakers override the governor to start adult-use marijuana sales, but the process of implementing a law voters approved in 2016 has just begun.

Adam Drury

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Maine Lawmakers Override Governor To Start Adult-Use Marijuana Sales

State legislators in Maine have just done something remarkable. Today, in a striking display of political will, lawmakers in both chambers of the legislature voted to override Governor LePage’s veto of a bill legalizing adult-use cannabis sales. Republican Gov. Paul LePage had long-vowed to block any recreational bill that crossed his desk. But after only a brief debate prior to the voting, Maine lawmakers were able to override the governor to start adult-use marijuana sales.

Maine’s House and Senate Unite To Overcome Governor’s Veto

According to Maine’s constitution, a veto override requires a two-thirds majority vote in both legislative chambers. Wednesday’s votes to overturn the governor’s veto of an adult-use marijuana bill easily cleared that hurdle.

In the state House, legislatures voted 109 in favor to 39 against overturning LePage’s veto. In the Senate, the margin in favor was even higher, with 28 yeas and just 8 nays.

Indeed, the only reason Maine’s legislature was able to override the veto was that the bill had initially cleared the House with a veto-proof margin of 112-34.

The success of the votes represents a significant step toward implementing the legal recreational cannabis market voters approved back in 2016. Nevertheless, it remains an initial step. And Governor LePage still has moves he can make to delay the launch of a legal retail market for cannabis.

Maine’s Governor LePage Can Still Delay Adult-Use Cannabis Sales

Back in February, it seemed LePage, a steadfast foe of legalization, was prepared to concede a small patch of ground to medical cannabis patients, if only for a short while.

On the eve of the state’s planned rollout of tough new regulations restricting access to certain medical cannabis products, LePage announced that he would wait until May to implement the changes.

Convinced that Maine’s medical cannabis program needed “improved and increased regulation,” LePage nevertheless wanted to avoid any “unnecessary confusion and complication,” he wrote in a letter to Representative Deborah Sanderson.

But LePage has always been adamantly opposed to a regulated adult-use marijuana market. In fact, this is his second veto of such a bill. In November 2017, LePage vetoed a more expansive bill that had passed the state legislature by a slimmer margin.

That is to say, state lawmakers secured a veto-proof majority only by adding further restrictions to the bill. At first, the law would have allowed cannabis clubs, permitted residents to grow up to six plants, and capped production to make the market more competitive for smaller, in-state growers.

Now, however, the bill only permits home cultivation of three plants. It also eliminates the production cap and axes the prospect of clubs.

More rules remain to be written. And the person responsible for that process is, to the chagrin of the bill’s supporters, Gov. LePage. LePage is responsible for setting up the administrative process that would set the rules and regulations for the commercial cannabis market.

Things like inspection, licensing, taxation and enforcement all have to get figured out. And Gov. LePage can slow the process significantly, simply by sitting on his hands.

Governor LePage’s veto of a popular adult-use bill and its legislative override come amid a devastating opioid epidemic that killed over 400 people in Maine in 2017. Legalization is one way to combat the deadly crisis. Residents who voted to legalize adult cannabis use and their representatives in office have already made that case.

But Wednesday’s override of the governor’s veto means that legal, regulated cannabis sales are an inevitability in Maine. Unfortunately, Gov. LePage still has a lot of control over the pace of the process. It could even take until Maine’s next governor takes office in 2019 to fully implement the law.

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