Maine’s Anti-Pot Governor Signs Off On Legalization—But Fight Isn’t Over

Photo by Nico Escondido

The biggest obstacle for marijuana legalization in Maine wasn’t trying to win over voters, a narrow majority of whom voted on Election Day to allow adults 21 and over to possess, consume and cultivate cannabis. Nor was it the opposition campaign, which, after its loss by about 4,000 votes, or less than a percentage point of total votes cast, abandoned a recount effort last month that nonetheless delayed cannabis prohibition’s end in Maine until this year.

It was—and is—Paul LePage, Maine’s notorious anti-marijuana governor, whose quest for ways to obfuscate or undo the will of the voters continues unabated.

On Tuesday, as the Portland Press-Herald reported, LePage confirmed that he’d signed a proclamation affirming legalization’s win in November.

This means that as of Jan. 30–thirty days after LePage put pen to paper—up to two and a half ounces of marijuana and six plants are legal for adults 21 and over in Maine.

But when can adults buy any? And when can the state expect to start raking in tax revenue? If LePage has his way, never.

By signing the proclamation, LePage fulfills a key duty of his office—and that, unbelievably, was no sure thing. This came just a few weeks after he hinted that he might not sign it at all, a lead balloon of a proposition he floated on the anti-democratic idea that ballot initiatives are just “suggestions” and not binding. (He was wrong—they are indeed binding, as a constitutional scholar reminded us.)

But the governor—a supporter of Donald J. Trump and a notorious reactionary who claimed that people of color from urban areas are responsible for his state’s opiate crisis (they aren’t) and that marijuana legalization is “deadly” (it isn’t, according to every available metric)—isn’t done trying to stand in legalization’s way.

Like Maine, Massachusetts voters approved marijuana legalization on Election Day—but during a special legislative session between Christmas and New Year’s Day, Massachusetts lawmakers approved a plan to delay the opening of retail recreational cannabis shops until mid-2018.

That sounds good to LePage, who called for a similar delay on Tuesday—and repeated an earlier call for Maine’s medical-marijuana program to end. And, true to form, LePage did it while saying things that aren’t true.

While calling for a moratorium and for the legislature to deliver a huge sum of money that he insists is necessary for the state to regulate modest recreational cannabis sales, LePage claimed that Colorado had seen a big spike in medical-marijuana registrations by people seeking to evade paying state sales tax on weed. And that, of course, is another excuse to not go through with legalizing cannabis, America’s democratically elected roadblock insisted.

We really need to sit down and look at this and if we are going to tax, let’s tax it, and if we are not going to tax it, let’s not even bother doing it,” he told the Press-Herald, which pointed out, using facts available to anyone with Google, that Colorado in fact has fewer people in its medical-marijuana registry since recreational cannabis became available.

So now what? Maine’s legislature, which returns to work today, now has nine months to craft rules and regulations for recreational cannabis sales, with successful models in Colorado, Washington and Oregon to follow while doing it.

Doesn’t sound too onerous, although some leaders of Maine’s legislature indicated they’re worried about edible cannabis products falling into the hands of children.

The real issue will be, as usual, LePage. The governor says that he won’t set up a “Maine Department of Cannabis” or similar state agency to oversee cannabis sales until the legislature votes him an undisclosed sum of money—perhaps as much as $5 million, a fabricated figure LePage picked out of thin air last month.

In other words, after lying and obstructing the democratic process didn’t work, Paul LePage will now try extortion.

Buckle up, Maine; it’s going to be a long ride.

You can keep up with all of HIGH TIMES’ marijuana news right here.

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