Maine lawmakers have voted to override Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill that would implement recreational cannabis in the state.
LePage vetoed the implementation bill last week. This was the second time he vetoed the implementation legislation since voters approved recreational cannabis in 2016 through a ballot initiative.
Why veto the bill?
In his veto letter, LePage wrote that he cannot support a state law that violates federal law.
According to the staunch cannabis opponent, he does not want the state to operate two separate cannabis programs – medical and recreational – each having a different set of rules from the other and each having a different tax rate.
LePage also pointed out that other states that have legalized adult-use cannabis have experienced staggering increases in vehicular fatalities that resulted from cannabis impairment. He didn’t cite data supporting this claim. Instead, he said that they should take every step necessary to ensure their roads are safe instead of making them more hazardous.
What lawmakers had to say after the veto
According to the bipartisan implementation committee’s co-chairs, they were disappointed by LePage’s veto given the work they have done in order to give local control back to the communities and in order to protect the children.
Sen. Roger Katz, Republican of Augusta, said that legislators had met with the governor in March to talk about his concerns. He said that they felt they have done well in addressing most of LePage’s concerns regarding the bill.
Lawmakers who had served as members of a special committee tasked to implement recreational cannabis legalization said that they are not getting the cooperation they need from LePage’s administration.
Lawmakers who support the recreational cannabis bill were hoping to have enough votes to override the governor’s veto this time around. The bill had passed in the House and in the Senate with veto-proof margins. However, the House Republicans had led the effort to sustain LePage’s veto of the first recreational cannabis implementation bill last year.
Legislators vote to override the veto
State lawmakers are tasked to develop the regulatory framework for recreational cannabis sale and taxation. So it has the power to overturn LePage’s veto.
The Main House voted 109-39 to override the veto. The Main Senate, on the other hand, voted 28-6 in favor of overturning it.
Now that the recreational cannabis implementation bill has passed, the State Department of Administration and Financial Services would need to hire a consultant who will help the state write regulations. These will include inspection and licensing guidelines for wholesale commercial growing facilities, measures for the collection of sales taxes, and licensing guidelines of retail sellers.
These regulations will once again be subject for approval by the next Legislature. The next Legislature will convene in January.
Businesses are happy
Businessmen are happy that lawmakers voted to push Maine’s legal retail sales of recreational cannabis forward. They do admit that there is still a long way to go before retail sales are launched.
If everything moves smoothly from this point, it is expected that the first retail pot shops will open for business in the spring of 2019.
Some have therefore expressed worry that legislative delays will cost Maine a competitive advantage in the burgeoning cannabis industry. Massachusetts, for one, is preparing to launch its recreational cannabis market in July.
According to Jacque Santucci, founder of medical cannabis dispensary Wellness Connection, the delays in setting up regulations for adult-use markets have already cost Maine its prior advantage of already having a medical cannabis system in place.
Maine was ahead of the game four to five years ago, Santucci said. He explained that that some people who had been interested in setting up businesses in Maine already moved south to Massachusetts. Massachusetts will be offering a larger retail cannabis market when sales are launched this summer.
Massachusetts is expecting sales of $1 billion in cannabis sales by 2020.