Maine – the land of the lighthouse and the lobster. And it almost became the first state on the east coast to adopt a regulated and taxed marijuana marketplace. Instead, the nation’s former #1 medical program is now left in chaos and cited as part of the reason why recreational marijuana implementation has been delayed. How did this happen? (Insert head scratch).
Maine’s strength, once demonstrated to the nation, as a picture of what a successful, safe, regulated and taxed marijuana program looked like, was overthrown – thanks to one pragmatic Governor and a Legislature that could not override his veto. A failure that has left the marijuana market in Maine in mass confusion, paving the way for a rampant, thriving “green” market.
How on earth did we get here?
In November of 2016, 381,060 Mainers voted to legalize marijuana in Maine. And just one year later, after seven tireless months of work, the legislative Marijuana Legalization Implementation (MLI) Committee’s effort to create marketplace laws has been delayed thanks to one firm gubernatorial veto and 17 legislators. The Legislature came up 17 votes short of the override. With over 50% of voting Mainers agreeing in the ballot box to legalize marijuana, how are 17 people standing in their way?
As CEO of Maine’s largest medical marijuana provider – Wellness Connection of Maine – I was proud when the medical program was voted “Best in the Nation” in 2014. That affirmation proved that we’d successfully educated Mainers, implemented a safe, regulated medical program, and earned the trust of law enforcement officials, lawmakers and municipal leaders. We built something that was working – something we were all proud of.
So when adult use marijuana was approved at the ballot box, we weren’t overly surprised. Then came the licensing moratorium. Maine suddenly became a place where you could grow your own and consume marijuana, but left no legal avenue to buy or sell without a medical card. The rules were clear, yet, not often followed.
A state of mass confusion
State-licensed dispensaries struggle amidst the multiplication of unlicensed “dispensaries”. Certifications are ceasing. Grey market cultivation and retail operations are populating Main Streets and industrial parks. Municipalities feel helpless, with no control to stop marijuana-based businesses from breaching their borders. Gifting and delivery loopholes are creating a marketplace that leaves law enforcement stumped on what they can, and can’t police. Maine’s unregulated green market is thriving. There is very little guidance and even less enforcement.
It is a disappointment, that after seven months, LD 1650, drafted by MLI and passed by both the House and the Senate with large majorities was vetoed by Governor LePage. The Governor citied uncertainty from the Trump Administration’s and a lack of harmony between Maine’s medical and the soon-to-be adult use markets as reasons for his veto. It was a bill that would have safely regulated and taxed marijuana sales in Maine, created transparency for law enforcement officers and provided municipal control, and leveled the playing field among operators.
Instead, we fell 17 votes short of a veto override — a deflating delay that leaves implementation looming 2019, at the earliest.
The silver lining:
The MLI Committee should be applauded for its continued investment in this effort. This committee has dedicated thousands of hours to create an open and successful process to fix the flaws and build a successful future program.
The silver lining here is that this Committee will now sharpen its focus on harmonizing the new adult use program with the medical program, which is in dire need of reform.
We all must get back to work to support them in creating a bill that our Governor will sign. A bill that our legislators can support. And a bill that thwarts the unregulated market and creates a safe and thriving marketplace that both recreationalists and medical patients alike can get what they need, without the creation of two separately managed and regulated programs.
It will undeniably be a long, confusing and challenging year leading up to implementation, but hey, haven’t all the years been like that? We will roll up our sleeves, like we’ve done so many times before and get it done. Education will resume. Advocacy will continue. As pioneers in this industry, we know nothing is straight forward and nothing comes easy. Since day one, we’ve been faced with challenges, and I’m confident that this one will soon be behind us to.
–Patrica Rosi, CEO, Wellness Connection of Maine