ME: Committee Continues Work On Recreational Marijuana Legislation

Photo Credit: Susan Sharon

A special legislative committee has approved its second bill to create rules for the recreational marijuana market in Maine. The bill contains several concessions designed to win the support of Gov. Paul LePage and other Republicans, who scuttled the initial effort last year.

Reps agree that the bill isn’t perfect. Critics of the measure passed in committee worry that it falls short of creating a viable regulated marijuana market that can compete with, and eventually diminish, a thriving underground cannabis trade.

“I mean there’s no question there’s a lot to dislike in this bill,” says Rep. Erik Jorgensen, a Portland Democrat. “There’s a lot to like in this bill. Have we made progress, have we made progress? I think that’s definitely true.”

Among the key provisions is a 10 percent tax rate on retail sales and a 21.5 percent rate on wholesale sales. The state’s finance agency says this complex tax scheme will yield a 20 percent effective rate and bring in more than $16 million in tax revenue by fiscal year 2021.

While some elements drew broad support, others were geared to win over Republicans and the governor. Those could face opposition from supporters of the original marijuana initiative that voters approved two years ago. These potential sticking points include combining oversight of the medical and recreational programs in the state’s finance agency, slashing the personal cultivation limit in half, from six flowering plants to three, and eliminating social clubs.

The bill also eliminates the possibility of sharing tax revenue with municipalities, a provision that could discourage cities and towns from allowing retail and growing operations and, thus, weaken the regulated market.

The bill now goes through a lengthy drafting process before it’s considered by the full Legislature. More changes could occur before its fate is known.