A raucous and at times reportedly emotional crowd greeted the members of the Maine 20-member Joint Selection Committee on Marijuana Legalization Implementation (MLI), getting public opinion about draft legislation for recreational cannabis at the Appropriations Committee room – and two other rooms set up to handle overflow – at the Maine State House on September 26.
At issue was a new draft suggesting amendments of the original bill, the Marijuana Legalization Act (MLA) passed in November, 2016, to legalize recreational marijuana.
The 70-page draft bill under discussion at the public hearing was an emergency bill of recommendations by the committee about the development and institution of a regulated marketplace for adult use and the regulation of personal use and home cultivation.
What’s good about this emergency bill is that the legislation will be effective immediately upon approval by the committee.
But according to reports from Maine Public, an independent news service, about questions from the crowd, that fast approval process was one of the few good things about the draft.
The bill called for changing minor things, such as replacing the term “retail marijuana” with the term “adult use”, and other larger issues such as clarifying the roles and authorities, including the respective rulemaking authorities, of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry in implementation, administration and enforcement.
It establishes the Marijuana Advisory Commission for the continued study of the laws relating to marijuana, and reporting to the legislature on an annual basis. And it establishes the Adult Use Marijuana Public Health and Safety Fund, which is primarily funded through dedicated tax revenue from the sale of adult use marijuana and adult use marijuana products, to be used by the department to facilitate public health and safety awareness and education programs, initiatives, campaigns and activities and enhanced law enforcement training programs for local, county and state law enforcement officers.
All of that was pretty much boilerplate with other adult-use regulations in other states.
But there were some red flags in the Maine draft bill.
It provides for a 20 percent sales tax on adult use marijuana and adult use marijuana products to be imposed at the point of final sale to a consumer by a marijuana store or marijuana social club. Current law provides for a 10 percent sales tax.
The committee said in a letter by committee chairs Senator Roger Katz and Representative Teresa Pierce released with the draft that they worked to determine an appropriate rate for an excise tax that would approximate an effective tax rate of 20 percent when combined with the current 10 percent sales tax. “Ultimately, however, we lacked the technical information necessary to make an informed decision regarding the setting of an excise tax rate”, they stated in the letter, and that the “prudent course of action is not to include an excise tax in the draft bill but to instead increase the sales tax from 10 percent to 20 percent.” They also called for further discussion on the matter.
Another red flag is the six month residency requirement to meet licensing criteria, with no mention that if you owned a dispensary in another state you couldn’t operate one in Maine.
The bill also would delay any adult use marijuana social club licenses until June 1, 2019.
The letter noted another issue related to the draft about the conversion of non-profit medical marijuana dispensaries to for-profit corporations. The problem is, adding that to the medical marijuana law through this draft directly impacts the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Act. Even though that language was in this draft, committee members stated that they believed that “a determination of the merits of this proposal is outside of the jurisdiction of the MLI Commmittee” and should be considered through separate legislation. “Although this language is currently included in the bill draft, we intend to advocate for its removal during the work session process.”
Maine Public reported that the committee plans to complete a proposal for the full legislature to consider in a special eight hour session on October 12. Meanwhile, committee members say the hope of having retail sales underway by early next year isn’t going to happen.
Once lawmakers pass a bill, rules will need to be adopted to implement it, along with establishment of a licensing system and a state inspection program.