(Photo courtesy DankDepot.com)
(Photo courtesy DankDepot.com)
On Wednesday, marijuana prohibitionists submitted a petition requesting a recount after a surge of overseas military votes ensured that Question 1, which legalizes recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older, passed by a margin of about 4,000 votes. The Secretary of State’s office has yet to set a date for the recount, but if the results hold up, a battle will likely play out in January between the LePage administration and legalization advocates and possibly medical marijuana caregivers and recreational pot interests.

Although recreational cannabis is now legal in seven other states, the fate of the new state laws is hanging in the balance with the election of Donald Trump. Last Thursday, Gov. LePage said he planned to talk to Trump to determine whether he plans to enforce the federal prohibition on pot. 

“If he enforces federal law then I have no choice but to not put this into play and it’s going to be a court battle,” said the governor on WGAN radio. 

Like most of the reality TV star’s positions, Trump’s views on marijuana have been pretty inconsistent. Twenty-six years ago Trump said that all drugs should be legalized, but during the presidential campaign he said that he supports medical marijuana, but he opposes it for recreational use. Trump has also surrounded himself with anti-pot crusaders like Vice President-elect Mike Pence, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Christie, Sessions and Giuliani have all been floated as potential candidates to be the next attorney general. The AG would have the authority to crack down on legalization states despite a recent Gallup poll that found 60 percent of Americans support an end to prohibition.

Meanwhile, state agencies are beginning to craft new rules to implement the 30-page legalization bill. And if the governor’s recent comments are any indication, he will likely try to put as many restrictions on the new law as possible.

“Legalizing marijuana goes against federal law,” said Le-Page in his weekly address, “and the question was so poorly drafted it will require millions of dollars and several legislative fixes before it can be implemented.”

One of the first objectives of the administration will likely be to put a new agency in charge of pot regulation. Although Question 1 requires that marijuana be regulated under the authority of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, the governor argues that the department doesn’t have the infrastructure to regulate or to implement the new law. The governor has stated that he will take measures to keep marijuana out of the hands of children and that the only agency with the proper infrastructure to regulate pot is the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations (BABLO), which has more enforcement authority than ACF. BABLO is also very aggressive about collecting taxes and enforcing licensing and underage drinking laws. On the eve of the election, ACF Commissioner Walt Whitcomb argued in an op-ed that his department’s expertise is in “food crops, public recreation, land management and forest production” and has “little connection to the far-reaching legal and law enforcement demands” of Question 1.

 An earlier referendum proposed by the Washington D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project would have put recreational marijuana regulation under the authority of BABLO, but it was defeated by the local activist group Legalize Maine, which wrote the referendum that ultimately passed.

“It was [put under ACF] because cannabis in its raw form is just a dried flower and can also be manufactured like food products,” explained Legalize Maine spokesman Paul McCarrier. “In the end, it’s a plant and ACF has the most knowledge about safety for what we consume.”

However, Sen. Eric Brakey (R-Androscoggin Cty.), co-chair of the Health and Human Services Committee and a Question 1 supporter, says he will be supporting a measure to move oversight of the recreational marijuana program from ACF to BABLO. 

“From my initial look at it, I think that BABLO has the tools and the resources to be able to regulate this already, rather than the Department of Agriculture, which would have to develop something from scratch,” said Brakey. “So my personal view is that BABLO is a much better place for it.”

Nevertheless, McCarrier believes the current language will stand.

 


“The reason why [the referendum] was 30 pages long is to make it very clear what we were voting on and it doesn’t leave a lot of interpretation up to the Legislature,” said McCarrier. “I see a lot of fights down the line, especially the way that election shook out with the Republicans keeping the Senate and Republicans gaining seats in the House. But I’m expecting that all sides will respect the citizens initiative process.”

Brakey said he will also be working with other lawmakers to create new laws to mandate child-proof packaging for marijuana products and fixing a loophole in the law that Attorney General Janet Mills argues would make it legal for children to possess up to 2.5 ounces of pot.

“I think no matter what we do, we are going to be doing a better job than the black market has been doing in terms of protecting kids from getting access to this,” said Brakey. 

At the same time, many medical marijuana caregivers who opposed Question 1 on the grounds that it would hurt their small cottage industry are watching closely. Caregiver and patient advocate Hillary Lister says she worries that Maine will implement rules that will create a licensing process that will favor giving the limited number of recreational licenses to large out-of-state investors over small mom-and-pop operations. 

“There’s been some legislative pressure to do that in the past,” said Lister, “but there was never really any need to do that under the way the medical program was structured.” 

She said that she is also concerned that the LePage administration might attempt to impose more regulations to track both recreational and medical marijuana, which could require growers to be listed in a state-run registry as well as comply with expensive security guidelines for their growing facilities. Medical marijuana caregivers have successfully lobbied to defeat similar measures in the past. Lister said her group’s first priority will be to make sure that family members of medical marijuana patients are still allowed to continue growing for their relatives, such as children with various health conditions, which is allowed under current law. 

Brakey, who has been involved in medical marijuana policy making over the past two years, dismissed Lister’s concerns as “unfounded,” noting that Question 1 explicitly states that the law does not apply to the medical program. He said he has heard of no plan to prohibit caregivers from growing for relatives with health conditions or to set up a tracking system for medical marijuana, which he said would violate patient privacy.  Brakey added that it is important to keep the medical marijuana program running in order to help children with seizure disorders and other debilitating conditions that don’t qualify for adult use as well as to maintain production of certain medical strains that aren’t in demand on the recreational market. He said the provision in the new law that allows adults to grow their own pot reinforces a medical caregiver’s right to grow for relatives.  

“I think that it’s going to be very important that we maintain the medical program,” he said. “I think that some people may be concerned that in a world with adult-use marijuana, prices may come down to the point where some people can’t afford to stay in business. That’s markets.”

But perhaps the most stringent regulations on marijuana could come from local town governments, which are authorized under the law to regulate the number of marijuana retail establishments, to establish separate local licensing requirements and even to prohibit them from operating in the town. A spokesman for the Maine chapter of the anti-Question 1 group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) did not respond to a request for comment, but the national organization has announced that it will assist municipalities in legalization states to adopt model ordinances to ban marijuana stores and bars. Rockland City Councilor Will Clayton says he’s already considering proposing zoning regulations and a possible moratorium on pot clubs.

“I would also like input from the [Rockland Police Department] on any hurdles they may encounter and what we can do to assist in overcoming them,” said Clayton. “Two and a half ounces is a whole lot of pot that someone can have on them.”