AUGUSTA — The draft of a bill designed to lay the groundwork for the regulation of marijuana in Maine would tax retail sales of the drug at 20 percent and allow medical marijuana dispensaries to be run as for-profit entities rather than as nonprofits.

The Press Herald obtained a copy of the bill that is being released to the public Tuesday. Other highlights include provisions to allow marijuana clubs to be licensed starting June 1, 2019, drive-thru sales as long as they are not prohibited by local ordinance, as well as internet sales and deliveries.

The draft bill is the result of months of study, testimony and deliberation by the Legislature’s Joint Select Committee on Marijuana Legalization Implementation, which was created to ensure the ballot-box law is put in place in 2018.

A letter from the committee chairs, Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, and Rep. Teresa S. Pierce, D-Falmouth, that accompanied the 70-page draft bill outlined two areas where the committee had concerns – setting an appropriate tax rate and incorporating a proposal supported by the existing dispensaries to allow them to convert from nonprofit to for-profit operations.

The letter said the committee wanted to set an excise tax on marijuana based on weight that would result in an effective tax rate of 20 percent when combined with the existing 10 percent sales tax contained in the referendum initiative approved by voters in November.

Though the committee felt it lacked the technical expertise to make an informed decision on setting an excise tax, it believed allowing the Department of Administrative and Financial Services or Maine Revenue Services to set the rate would violate Article IX of the Maine Constitution, which prohibits the Legislature from surrendering its power of taxation.

To get around the dilemma, the committee decided to set the sales tax on marijuana at 20 percent.

All tax revenue would go to the state’s General Fund except the following:

• 5 percent of the monthly tax revenue generated in each community with a marijuana store or social club would go to the host community.

• 1 percent of the monthly statewide tax revenue would be distributed equally between each municipality that had a cultivation facility, products manufacturing facility, marijuana store or marijuana social club during the previous month.

• 12 percent of the statewide monthly tax revenue would go to the Adult Use Marijuana Public Health and Safety Fund for health and safety awareness and education programs, and enhanced law enforcement training programs.

The letter said the committee was concerned about the inclusion of the provision to allow dispensaries to switch to for-profit status, saying it conflicts with the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Act. The committee said it believes this issue is outside its jurisdiction and would be best considered by the correct legislative committee, likely Health and Human Services.

The bill also spells out that those currently licensed to sell medical marijuana as caregivers in Maine will be prohibited from making retail sales.

The bill sets up a regulatory regime with the state’s Department of Administrative and Financial Services retaining an enforcement arm in the law, as it does now for alcohol in its Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations. It leaves the regulation of cultivation, manufacturing, testing, packaging and labeling to the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

Other highlights of the bill include:

• A requirement “to implement and administer a tracking system for adult use marijuana from immature plant to the point of retail sale, disposal or destruction, which must include a requirement that licensees purchase radio-frequency identification tags from the department for the tracking of adult use marijuana and adult use marijuana products.”

• A system to “facilitate the collection and analysis of public health and safety data relating to the impacts and effects of the use of marijuana in the state.”

• The “development and implementation of programs, initiatives and campaigns focused on increasing the awareness of and educating the public on health and safety matters relating to the use of marijuana and marijuana products. Such programs, initiatives and campaigns may be funded with a portion of the tax revenues resulting from the sale of adult use marijuana and adult use marijuana products.”

• The “imposition by the department of fines on a licensee or license suspensions or license revocations of a licensee’s license for a violation of the Act, in accordance with the Maine Administrative Procedure Act, and limits the amount of such fines imposed to not more than $10,000 per minor license violation, not more than $50,000 per major license violation and not more than $100,000 per major license violation affecting public safety.”

The draft bill also defines and provides distinctions between different stages of growth for a marijuana plant allowing for enforcement of plant limits for those growing commercially or for home use.

The bill also sets a maximum limit for the purchase of immature marijuana plants for home growers to 12.

The committee chairs, Katz and Pierce, also note the 70-page document largely contains items the special committee agreed to by consensus. The draft bill is likely to face a number of amendments, revisions and debates between lawmakers and a growing array of marijuana lobbyists who have been working for clients representing all aspects of legal marijuana in Maine.

Katz and Pierce set the first public hearing for the bill for Sept. 26, with work sessions to follow on Sept. 27 and 28.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

[email protected]

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