LePage signs the bill. Photo by Governor’s Office
LePage signs the bill. Photo by Governor’s Office
" “I’m one of the ones that believes that the two-party is broken and I do believe that we’re probably gonna be heading for a Constitutional Convention to fix our government,” said LePage. “I really think that we need to start taking a hard look at other forms of government.” "
After threatening not to sign it, late last Friday night Gov. Paul LePage finally relented and signed a bill to extend a moratorium from nine months to a year on implementing rules for the sale of recreational marijuana. LD 88, which passed unanimously in both the House and Senate, also fixes a loophole in the voter-approved legalization referendum by reinstating pot possession penalties for individuals under 21. 

“Members of the Maine Legislature swiftly addressed major issues, protected our kids and our public safety,” said House Speaker Sara Gideon (D-Freeport) in a statement. 

As of Monday, adults over 21 years of age may legally possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana or 5 grams of marijuana concentrate and grow up to six mature plants and unlimited seedlings on the condition that they consume the herb in a private residence or private property with permission of the owner. Adults may give marijuana to another person, but may not sell it. This week, legislative leaders assembled a special 17-member joint committee to help develop rules for retail sale and cultivation of commercial recreational marijuana. 

Passage of the bill follows a brief moment of political drama late last week when LePage threatened to not sign the bill until the Legislature made changes to the legislation, including moving oversight of marijuana from the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations (BABLO) and appropriating an additional $1.6 million in funding. On Thursday, Republicans attempted to pass an amendment from the House floor to the bill addressing the governor’s concerns, but the measure failed 79-67.

Later that day, LePage tweeted a message to House Speaker Gideon with the simple message, “The clock is ticking.” Early Friday morning, the governor’s senior policy advisor Aaron Chadbourne began lobbying Republicans on Facebook by posting past articles from The Free Press and other newspapers reporting that the governor had long advocated for more funding for regulation and for moving regulation of recreational marijuana from ACF to BABLO. In response, Sen. Joyce Maker (R-Washington Cty.) pointed out that the governor never even submitted testimony on the bill, which also passed unanimously out of the bipartisan Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee.  

“He may very well have [advocated for] that … but are we as committees now required to look at past news articles or should we expect testimony to state what the Governor would have liked to see?” replied Maker. 

On Friday afternoon, WGME reported that the governor was still holding firm.

“I cannot allow [the Legislature] to pass a bill and not give us the opportunity to have an ability to start rule making.… They just want to fix their part of it and they don’t care about the executive branch,” the governor told a WGME reporter. “Well, the executive branch didn’t pass this. The executive branch never even got involved in it. In fact I’ve been against the entire marijuana bill.”

When the reporter pointed out that if the law wasn’t signed by Monday kids would be allowed to legally smoke pot, the governor said he agreed that the loophole should be fixed. But he dismissed the urgency of signing the bill. 

“All they need to do is give me direction and so we can get some experts who know about writing rules for marijuana. They don’t want to do that,” said LePage. “They just want to take it out of the hands of young kids.... I’m all for that. I agree with that, but you know, we’ve got seven people a week dying from heroin overdoses. That’s a priority. Marijuana doesn’t kill like opiates do, like heroin. The law’s the law. The people passed it. I don’t see what the problem is.”

Last fall, the governor fiercely opposed the referendum, arguing that legalizing pot could be “deadly,” with traffic deaths increasing and children and pets dying from consuming “pot snacks.”

In a sharply worded press release, Senate President Mike Thibodeau (R-Waldo Cty.) said that that he had reached out to the Governor’s Office several times to ask him to participate in crafting the bill, but LePage refused. 

“I met with the governor on Thursday, and he indicated to me that he hasn’t even read the bill (LD 88),” wrote Thibodeau. “Given the flaws in the law, as written, that are recognized by Democrats, Republicans and legalization opponents and supporters alike, and the fact that, without enactment of LD 88, children will be legally allowed to use the drug beginning Monday, I would hope he would see the value in reading the legislation and signing it.”

He noted that there is already a separate bill to meet the governor’s demands, but that it would first need a public hearing and to go through the legislative process. He added that the separate bill didn’t warrant an emergency like prohibiting children from legally smoking pot. 

Finally, at 6:33 p.m. on Friday evening, LePage announced that he had given in and signed the bill, “despite political games by Speaker of the House Sara Gideon.”

“I deal in policy, and others deal in politics,” wrote LePage on Facebook. “I would like to commend House Minority Leader Ken Fredette and Senate Democrat Leader Troy Jackson for their attempts to fix this bill. Unfortunately, Speaker Gideon is playing dirty politics, while Ken and Troy are truly working for the best interests of the Maine people.”

In a radio appearance Tuesday, the governor claimed  falsely that Gideon “stripped” the original bill passed by the VLA committee, which he claimed (falsely) included $1.5 million in funding and moving regulation to BABLO. 

“At 10 o’clock in the morning we had all of the votes that were necessary,” recalled the governor in his own revisionist recounting of the vote. “In fact it was going to be near-unanimous in both houses, both chambers, and then they take a break, she whipped her caucus, and all but one Democrat deserted the bill.”

LePage added that the Legislature’s rejection of his amendment illustrates his point that the government is broken and needs to be replaced with something new.  

“I’m one of the ones that believes that the two-party system is broken, and I do believe that we’re probably gonna be heading for a Constitutional Convention to fix our government,” said LePage. “I really think that we need to start taking a hard look at other forms of government.” 

The governor didn’t elaborate on any proposed replacement or whether a one-party system might be a more palatable option. But on Monday, the governor did his best to bypass the Legislature and override the voter-approved referendum by unilaterally issuing an executive order directing BABLO to take over rulemaking authority of marijuana regulation. The legally questionable order also outlines that no employee of the executive branch may implement the new legalization law until the Legislature provides funding. In a press release later that day, LePage complained that legislators “waited until the last minute to pass legislation”

“While politicians were scrambling to pass a moratorium on marijuana legalization, their credibility went up in smoke,” grumbled the governor.   

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether the Legislature’s joint marijuana committee will find agreement with each other on new regulations, much less with the governor. The deadline for final rulemaking is February 1, 2018.