The leaders of Legalize Maine are backing the gubernatorial candidate who has led the political effort to keep the state’s recreational marijuana market closed.
Every member of Legalize Maine’s five-person board of directors has donated to House Minority Leader Ken Fredette’s gubernatorial campaign, accounting for almost one out of every five dollars the Newport Republican had raised as of Jan. 16, the most recent campaign filing deadline. When other Legalize Maine donors are included – such as caregivers and cannabis testing and extraction labs – marijuana interests account for almost a third of Fredette’s total campaign war chest.
But it’s a small war chest – Fredette had raised just $14,435 by Dec. 31, 2017, a pittance compared with the Republican and Democratic front-runners.
“A third of next to nothing is nothing,” Fredette said when asked about the marijuana-linked donations. “They’re not getting much from me, are they?”
When asked about the motivation for the donations, both Fredette and Legalize Maine’s president, Paul McCarrier, said they shared a personal relationship. The two became friends about 10 years ago when McCarrier took a negotiations class that Fredette taught at the University of Maine in Augusta.
“He wanted to help out and that’s what you do on campaigns,” Fredette said.
McCarrier applauded Fredette’s stance on lowering taxes, which he said “helps all Mainers and Maine businesses” and is personally important to him.
“We hope Ken will keep an open mind when it comes to cannabis policy,” McCarrier said.
LEGALIZE MAINE POLITICAL INTERESTS
Fredette isn’t the only gubernatorial candidate to receive Legalize Maine donations, but he has received the most. Of its five-person board, only McCarrier donated cash to another gubernatorial candidate, giving $500 to Democrat Mark Dion, a former Cumberland County sheriff who sits on the legislative committee crafting rules for the state’s recreational pot market, and $200 to Democrat Mark Eves.
At first glance, Fredette is not an obvious choice for Legalize Maine’s bundled donations. Last October, Fredette led the House Republican effort to kill the bill that would have set up the taxation, regulation and licensing rules for Maine’s adult-use market. Although his effort to scuttle the bill in the House failed, Fredette secured the votes that he needed to sustain Gov. Paul LePage’s veto against an override attempt.
Fredette’s actions have caused some activists to “blackball” him among pro-marijuana voters, calling him “a LePage tool” in Facebook political chats.
But Legalize Maine has its roots in Maine’s thriving medical marijuana community, which would benefit from any delay in launching the adult-use market.
In late October, just days before a special session vote, the 4-year-old political action committee yanked support for the bill, saying it wasn’t “ready for prime time.” The group believed the legislative rewrite had strayed too far from the original citizen initiative, which Legalize Maine wrote. The ballot-box law had included licensing preferences for caregivers and a cultivation cap that protected small farmers from price fluctuations, among other things.
Fredette claims he votes against Legalize Maine’s interests, but in October, when he killed the adult-use implementation bill, he was on the same side as Legalize Maine, saying it set unrealistic deadlines for implementation, among other objections. The death of that bill means Maine’s medical marijuana market remains the only legal way that a Mainer can buy cannabis, extending that community’s monopoly for at least another few months.
FREDETTE POSITION ON MORATORIUM
This month, Fredette and Legalize Maine found themselves on the same side again, both opposing a bill introduced by the marijuana committee’s Senate leader, Republican Roger Katz of Augusta, that would have extended the Legislature’s moratorium on the commercial aspects of the Marijuana Legalization Act until the final day of the legislative session.
No one was surprised that a legalization group wanted to allow the adult-use sales ban to lapse, but Fredette’s position left some puzzled. After all, Fredette had introduced his own bill to extend the moratorium last fall.
“There’s really no explaining this one,” Katz said of Republican opposition to the extended moratorium.
Fredette says his vote isn’t hard to understand. His moratorium extension would have pushed legal sales out until at least January 2019, which would have allowed both Katz’s committee and state officials that have to translate statute into regulation enough time to do it right, Fredette said. Setting an April 18 deadline on a moratorium extension would have put undue pressure on lawmakers to accept whatever committee implementation bill lands on their desk, he said.
“I feel as if this puts us in a bit of a box to pass another bill,” Fredette told his colleagues on the House floor while urging them to follow his lead.
The failure of that bill means the ballot-box language that Legalize Maine wrote for the referendum went into effect last Thursday. Fredette said he isn’t worried – no one can legally grow, process or sell recreational cannabis until they have a state license to do so, and that can’t happen until the state writes its pot rules, something LePage says won’t happen until January anyway.
EXTENT OF MARIJUANA LOBBYING
But Legalize Maine remains hopeful that the Legislature will lose its appetite for tinkering with the Marijuana Legalization Act, and that the original wording might yet stand.
Fredette said Legalize Maine hasn’t lobbied him “a whole lot.” He said Legalize Maine is just one of many groups in the marijuana community that he has met with to talk about the industry, and how it works, since he voted against the implementation bill last year. Fredette said he decided then to travel the state to talk with people who work in the industry, own marijuana-related businesses and who use it medicinally, to educate himself on the issue before returning to work this session.
“I’m open to any and all folks who want a say in this process,” Fredette said. “But in my opinion, we’re not there. I’ve yet to vote for a marijuana bill, not even at the polls.”
In the past, Fredette has said the Legislature might be better served by making “surgical” improvements to the citizen initiative rather than creating an omnibus rewrite. But that approach to legalization shouldn’t be confused with support for recreational cannabis use, or seen as a sign that he is doing Legalize Maine’s bidding, Fredette said. Both Fredette and McCarrier emphasized the need for good policy on the issue, even if they come down on different sides.
“There’s no smoking gun here,” said Fredette, responding to questions from the Portland Press Herald about the political contributions. “I’m a little offended. If you want to talk about money influencing the process, if that’s the rabbit hole you want to go down, a few thousand dollars to Ken Fredette isn’t the story. You can’t walk out the door up here in Augusta without running into a marijuana lobbyist. That’s the story. They’re not getting much from me, are they? I’m not someone who is going to be influenced by someone giving a couple thousand bucks.”