The Maine Senate has passed the bill that would launch the state’s adult-use marijuana market.
The compromise bill passed with a veto-proof margin, 24-10, one day after being approved by a 112-34 margin in the House, the chamber that killed a more liberal version of the bill last year by sustaining Gov. Paul LePage’s veto.
While there is still the technicality of getting a concurrence vote from the House, the bill will now head to LePage’s desk for consideration. He will have 10 days to decide whether to sign it, veto it or avoid a possible override scenario and let it go into allow without a signature.
Sen. Roger Katz, the Augusta Republican who co-chaired the committee that wrote the bill, said the bill was a process of compromise among a group that ranged from those who hate cannabis but realize it is legal to those who want to treat it like any other plant.
“We listened and we listened and we listened,” said Katz, who voted against the legalization of adult-use marijuana at the November 2016 referendum. “We talked to all the stakeholders, we looked at other states and what they’ve done… We tried to thread the needle and be right in the middle of the pack.”
Katz ticked off what he thinks makes the compromise bill better than the current law of the land, the Marijuana Legalization Act approved by voters at referendum. The personal possession and home grow freedoms of that law are allowed, but sales are delayed until Maine issues licenses.
The compromise bill cuts the personal plant count down from six to three; eliminates deliveries, internet sales, drive through windows and social clubs; increases the tax rate from a 10 percent sales tax to an effective 20 percent tax; and funnels 6 percent of pot taxes to law enforcement.
“If for some reason this bill fails, the cheers that you will hear are from those who profit from the current illicit gray market,” Katz said in defense of the bill.
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The bill met with vocal opposition from those who still oppose marijuana legalization, like Sen. Scott Cyrway, R-Kennebec, a former DARE officer who said the bill would normalize the use of a drug that federal authorities compare to heroin and cocaine.
Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, a marijuana proponent, opposed the compromise bill because he thinks it went too far in the other direction to achieve political acceptance, eroding the rights of residents to do what they want on their own land and pushing marijuana taxes too high.
If the bill continues on its current path, Mainers can expect to see the first recreational business licenses issued in the spring of 2019. It allows recreational retailers to buy marijuana from former medical growers, a provision that will help them stock their shelves and potentially get Maine’s recreational market up and running very quickly.
This story will be updated.